Walt Whitman

The Fra

March 1909, Vol. 2 No. 6, pp. 93-94

By Benjamin De Casseres

WALT WHITMAN found himself wherever he looked. Nature made him self-creative. She reflected back the splendor of his own soul. To little minds—the hearth-rug gossipers as distinct from the trail-makers—nothing is so frightful as a glimpse of their own possibilities, a great uprush of the Self, a mighty surge that pushes one along the line of one’s destiny. Whitman demands that you shall follow your star, or your bent, or whatever you may call the unique direction hat your innate forces urge you to take. Make a trail. There is no more terrible thing than to be stage-frightened at yourself. Fling yourself full upon your own ideas and warm them into action. Brood upon the eggs of your inmost desire and hatch eagles of daring.

Your ambition, your daring dream, your life-desire, your self-exploiting impulse—is it the highest and the best? A question whispered by Fear. Push those stale corpses out of the doorway of your purpose, urges Whitman. Your dream is the brightest and best for you; otherwise it would not persistently urge you. What are the highest and best of others to you? They made their trails. You must make yours. You are unique, peculiar. Affirm yourself! Put into your soul the inexorability of the oak and something of the savage effrontery of granite cliffs.

I think also that Walt Whitman is the great poet of youth. There is always a rising generation, and so Whitman will always have an audience. The world is always youthful. The aged are mowed down and sealed up in clay, but above the mounds there tramp forever and forever the battalions of youth, the trail-makers. With Whitman the spirit of youth lasted through a lifetime. He was a spirit that came to liberate, to free, to send men into the open spaces of the inner and outer world.

The appeal to Youth is the appeal of the Spirit of Emancipation—emancipation of body and mind. The appeal is made to the maimed individuality of man, to the Siegefrieds to come forth and sound the clarions of defiance before the moats and walls and vitrified ramparts of [94] human passivity. The brain of youth is the menstruum of authority.

Whitman also brought us back to a sane, healthy egoism—love of self as the foundation of health. Cultivate body and mind—even at the expense of others—is his first doctrine. A man who loves himself radiates love. He can no more help doing it than the sun can help radiating light.

“Leaves of Grass” urges us to power and poise, glorifies earth, light, wave and the elemental forces. Culture is decay. Cities are diseases. Creeds are jails.

And Whitman made another great trail in the injunction to love our bodies. The flesh is sacred; there is nothing vile about any part of us except the thought that there is. The needs of the flesh are as valid as the needs of the mind. No man has done so much in this country to counteract the pruriency of the minds that the immigrants who landed on Plymouth Rock brought with them, as Walt Whitman. John Addington Symonds says he was not sane on the question of his own body until he read “Children of Adam.”

Walt Whitman pointed to farther vistas of the spirit and indicated more places where trails might be pursued than all the people in America who preceded him. The sanest minds that the world has ever known were in the heads of Herbert Spencer and Walt Whitman; the latter, being a more vital figure than the former, was the most significant man who has yet walked the earth.