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Sample text

He allows the grass and other such things of nature to maintain something of their own integrity, the something that human consciousness can never fully “absorb” or master but can only “guess” at. His caution or tentativeness in this regard distinguishes him from Romantic predecessors like Emerson and Wordsworth, who more confidently read the book of Nature. ”); a child itself, “the produced babe of the vegetation”; an emblem of democracy, “a uniform hieroglyphic . . Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones, / Growing among black folks as among white”; and finally “the beautiful uncut hair of graves,” the sign of immortality in the shared life of all natural beings (193).

And yet the poem’s persona transforms the Gospel source nearly beyond recognition by claiming to speak more for nature than for God. “I am Walt Whitman,” he says, “liberal and lusty as nature” (512). This tendency to deify nature, as well as to transform his biblical sources, points to the writer of the period generally regarded as the strongest literary and philosophical influence on Whitman’s work – Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson’s imprint on Whitman’s work is so clear that Whitman is sometimes included among the school of American Transcendentalists that looked to Emerson for inspiration and that included Henry David Thoreau among its leading lights.

At the end of the poem’s second section, the poet says, “I am she who adorn’d herself and folded her hair expectantly, / My truant lover has come, and it is dark,” then addresses the night directly, “Double yourself and receive me darkness, / Receive me and my lover too” (544). The darkness itself becomes a metaphorical lover, to whom the poet croons, “Darkness, you are gentler than my lover, his flesh was sweaty and panting, / I feel the hot moisture yet that he left me” (544). As the vision dissipates, the feminine persona makes her exit – “I fade away” (544) – and leaves the speaker with the post-coital calm that, as in “Song of Myself,” suggests the arrival at the mystical state of fulfillment and unity with all being.

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