The Power of Poetry
Eliza Mimski on Walt Whitman's spiritual message.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve turned to poetry when I’ve needed help with getting through hard times. For example, I’ve turned to Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” for inspiration when I’ve had a difficult decision to make, or to Emily Dickinson’s “‘Hope’ is the Thing with Feathers” when I’ve felt hopeless and have sorely needed a boost. During the pandemic, I’ve once again read Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” to seek comfort when so many are suffering in the world and so many have died.
When I encountered Whitman’s poem in high school, and I’m 73 so we’re talking more than half a century ago, I’d felt so alone and separate from others. Yet that turned around for me when reading Whitman’s exuberant claim that we all shared the same atoms, and in his celebration of the idea that we were all connected. I took his words to mean that in some ways we were all the same person, we were all linked, all part of one another. I no longer felt so alone, and this was when I first learned the power of poetry.
Now, being stuck inside, daily thinking about those who are suffering and those who have died from the virus, and those grieving those deaths, Song of Myself has again brought me solace. Once again, I’ve found myself lingering over Whitman’s opening lines where he zealously states that we are all part of one another, that we share the same atoms, that we are all basically versions of each other, his spiritual message meaning that the entire world is part of one big family and we are all in this together.
Eliza Mimski is a retired high school teacher living in San Francisco, California. Her work appears in multiple literary magazines.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is one of the most celebrated of American poets. He was born on Long Island and lived much of his life in Brooklyn, New York.