Song of Myself
How we cite our quotes:
I have heard what the talkers were talking . . . . the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance . . . . Always substance and increase,
Always a knit of identity . . . . always distinction . . . . always a breed of life. (section 2)
Whitman rarely attacks religion directly, but he tries to undermine the idea that knowledge of the universe should be received from religious authorities. You can tell that "the talk of the beginning and the end" refers to religious ideas because he goes on to challenge the notions of heaven and hell. His basic spiritual principle is life and growth (i.e., reproduction), which both exist in the present moment.
Who goes there! hankering, gross, mystical, nude?
How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?
What is a man anyhow? What am I? and what are you?
All I mark as my own you shall offset it with your own,
Else it were time lost listening to me.
I do not snivel that snivel the world over,
That months are vacuums and the ground but wallow and filth,
That life is a suck and a sell, and nothing remains at the end but threadbare crape and tears.
Whimpering and truckling fold with powders for invalids . . . . conformity goes to the fourth-removed,
I cock my hat as I please indoors or out.
Shall I pray? Shall I venerate and be ceremonious? (section 20)
Although he frequently challenges religion in "Song of Myself," it's important to remember that this is a religious poem in many ways, and Whitman feels he has learned from the world's religions. He has drunk deeply of Christian ideas like divine mysteries and importance of hope and faith. He has great faith in the order of the world and does not think, like Shakespeare's atheistic Macbeth, that the world is just a big scam.
I am the poet of the body,
And I am the poet of the Soul.
The pleasures of heaven are with me, and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself . . . . the latter I translate into a new tongue. (section 21)
One of the projects of this poem is to take religious ideas to a different level – to transform them into an appreciation for the spirituality of the present moment. The present contains the unity of body and soul, and of heaven and hell. Except that hell is an old-fashioned idea that needs to be "translated" into a new language.