Whitman, Neruda, and Bodily Crisis

I am planning on writing my research paper on Whitman and Neruda and the subject of self, specifically in terms of bodily limits. Both poets express throughout their poems different feelings towards their bodily existence and limits. I want to trace the crisis of this through a few of each of their poems, and find the highs and lows of it and how, if at all, they are similar.

Whitman has moments of immense celebration of his body. For instance, the beginning sections of Song of Myself exemplify this, when he excuses himself from everyone to go and admire himself in the bath. However, at other moments there is a jumbled celebration, and he seems more disturbed and more aware of being a captive in his own skin. This is evident in the “lurking” he describes in Eidolons. Finally, close to his death Whitman writes Preface Note to 2d Annex in which he describes his decrepit body as a shell-like “conch-shell” existence. I feel that this is a different “shell” feeling than his earlier “lurking”, however, because of the implications of conch shells, which re-house monarchs regularly as they grow. I want to see if this idea of moving through skins and through bodies has any real merit for Whitman, or if it should simply be left in the poem as is.

In Neruda’s Body of Woman he speaks of “surviving himself”, yet there is also a lot of celebration of the body here. I can talk about his exploration of the woman’s body–her skin, in terms of Whitman’s bodily celebration. Some of Neruda’s other poems however seem stuck on this need to survive himself. For instance, in “Walking Around” Neruda says he is “tired of being a man.” I am interested to see if Neruda has a poem similar to Whitman’s conch-shell Preface, or, in general, how he concludes this crisis of bodily limitations at the end of his life.

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