Afterlife and Rebirth in “Song of Myself”

“And as to you Life I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths, (No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before)” (245)

Though Whitman seems to knock the concept of organized religion in “Song of Myself”, I noticed an apparent theme of afterlife, most notably the idea of being born again, or reincarnation. More than once, Whitman considers and lists different religions and entwines them as one in lines such as, “Buying drafts of Osiris, Isis, Belus, Brahma, Buddha, In my portfolio placing Manito loose, Allah on a leaf, the crucifix engraved…Taking them all for what they are worth and not a cent more” (233). From what I can gather, Whitman seems to cherish his own spirituality instead of a certain religion and acknowledges the afterlife in terms of being reborn. At the beginning of “Song of Myself”, Whitman asks what becomes of dead men, women, and children and answers his own question with, “They are alive and well somewhere, The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it…” (194). Whitman ponders death and immortality all throughout “Song of Myself” with lines such as:

“I am the mate the companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself, (They do not know how immortal, but I know)” (194)

“I know I am deathless, I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass…” (206)

“We should surely bring up again where we now stand, And surely go as much farther, and then farther and farther.” (240)

“To be in any form, what is that? (Round and round we go, all of us, and ever come back thither,)” (215)

“My faith is the greatest of faiths and the least of faiths…Believing I shall come again upon the earth after five thousand years…” (236)

“And my spirit said No, we but level that lift to pass and continue beyond.” (242)

“Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me, My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.” (239)

Whitman could be contemplating rebirth in a literal sense or as a metaphor. Thoughts?

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3 Responses to Afterlife and Rebirth in “Song of Myself”

  1. Anna Kate Lister says:

    Consider what Walt says on p. 244: “I have said that the soul is not more than the body, /And I have said that the body is not more than the soul, / And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is […] / And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool / and composed before a million universes.” He goes on to add, “I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God / not in the least, / Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself. // Why should I wish to see God better than this day? / I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and / each moment then, / In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own / face in the glass [….] ”

    I think that Walt believed in a God divided up among all living things, and yet fully embodied in every fraction of Him(or Her- or It-)self. This God, like energy, can neither be created nor destroyed, and is thus recycled from one particle into another…”then farther and farther”, “Round and round we go, all of us”. But beyond interpreting this is a belief in reincarnation, I would venture to say that Walt might be alluding to a more constant form of rebirth. The quotations above suggest that he wanted (and wanted us) to find the nature of God in every passing moment, each one entirely new and yet sharing a common thread with all those that precede it. So every facet of our existence, whether measured by time or space, can be interpreted as a ‘rebirth’ of sorts. That’s my understanding, anyway…

  2. Ed Burroughs says:

    Yes, I would agree. I think God for whitman is a osrt of adjetive that embodies everything, or a kind of similar thing to nature itself, nature being everything.
    A lot of his thoughts are very eastern I think, and also very similar to the transcendentalists.
    I think perhaps whitmans notion of the soul is not singular, but made up of a sea of countless souls that can make themselves present at any given time.

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