I sing the body electric

I sing the body electric
At Walt Whitman’s death, it was reported that over a thousand mourners visited his coffin within the first three hours. During his life, the frank expressions of love for the body in his poetry – particularly in the collection Leaves of Grass – caused outrage amongst some, not least for it’s ebullient sexuality.
The self publication of Leaves of Grass moved Ralph Waldo Emerson to send a letter praising the work and it’s clear that Whitman, Emerson and also their contemporary Henry David Thoreau all shared similar humanist sentiments and a reverence for the individual’s capacity for the transcendental. All three can be said to be philosophers but they also wanted to keep their feet on the ground and relate their thoughts to everyday life.
What marks the poem ‘I sing the body electric’ is that it uses the nuts and bolts of the physical frame and being of a human and digs for something essential that can’t be seen but only felt. It’s like Whitman is praising the body as a perfect miracle – the moreso for being commonplace – and saying to us “Look at this amazing creation, this is proof of greatness.”
The poem is also in free verse for which Whitman is famous (though not the father of the form) and this unfettered scattering of words must have seemed particularly liberal when it was first published. The great gift of all three men and also of the poem, is that within them ran the deep vein of faith that to be alive, is itself the greatest blessing.
© orlando kimber
Image: ‘Glad Day’ by William Blake

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