Song of Myself
How we cite our quotes:
You sea! I resign myself to you also . . . . I guess what you mean,
I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers,
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me;
We must have a turn together . . . . I undress . . . . hurry me out of sight of the land,
Cushion me soft . . . . rock me in billowy drowse,
Dash me with amorous wet . . . . I can repay you. (section 22)
OK, we know the drill by now: it's sex that's not really sex. True, you can't actually hook up with the ocean, but lines like "Dash me with amorous wet . . . . I can repay you" are so blatantly erotic that it's impossible not to read sex into them. This section returns to the image, from the beginning of the poem, of becoming "undisguised" and "naked" in the presence of the world.
Through me forbidden voices,
Voices of sexes and lusts . . . . voices veiled, and I remove the veil,
Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigured.
I do not press my finger across my mouth,
I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart,
Copulation is no more rank to me than death is. (section 24)
The speaker believes that sexual guilt and shame are harmful and damaging emotions. He seems to think that "lusts" are noble feelings that have been made "indecent" by the shame they provoke. The key to healthy sexuality is to view sex as natural and not "rank," or offensive.
Is this then a touch? . . . . quivering me to a new identity,
Flames and ether making a rush for my veins,
Treacherous tip of me reaching and crowding to help them,
My flesh and blood playing out lightning, to strike what is hardly different from myself,
On all sides prurient provokers stiffening my limbs,
Straining the udder of my heart for its withheld drip,
Behaving licentious toward me, taking no denial,
Depriving me of my best as for a purpose,
Unbuttoning my clothes and holding me by the bare waist,
Deluding my confusion with the calm of the sunlight and pasture fields,
Immodestly sliding the fellow-senses away,
They bribed to swap off with touch, and go and graze at the edges of me,
No consideration, no regard for my draining strength or my anger,
Fetching the rest of the herd around to enjoy them awhile,
Then all uniting to stand on a headland and worry me. (section 28)
Despite all the uplifting talk about healthy sexuality, Whitman feels that his own desires can quickly get out of hand. Around the middle of the poem, he has a great crisis in which his sense of touch takes control of him. The imagery is suggestive of masturbation. To put it bluntly, all of his sexual energy converges on his genitals ("Treacherous tip of me"). He prefers this energy to be dispersed throughout his body where it can be channeled and directed toward more general and less narrow feelings of eroticism.