#10 Whitman Wednesday: When I Read The Book

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This week’s poem, “When I Read The Book” raises some interesting philosophical quandaries.

  When I read the book, the biography famous,
  And is this then (said I) what the author calls a man's life?
  And so will some one when I am dead and gone write my life?
  (As if any man really knew aught of my life,
  Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing of my real life,
  Only a few hints, a few diffused faint clews and indirections
  I seek for my own use to trace out here.)

I think Whitman’s talking about how un-know-able we all are from one other. How can you truly know anyone else, when we often know so little of our own lives? How, then, can anyone feel confident writing a biography on someone else? How can you sum up someone’s life into a few hundred words or pages? I think these are the questions that Whitman was wrestling with as he spilled his heart into Leaves of Grass.

This poem made me feel really isolated and lonely. I don’t think this is a very hopeful poem. I couldn’t find any glimmer of understanding or connections here, except maybe the “diffused faint clews and indirections”? I think that a lot of us here spend so much time with our noses in books because it helps us either process the world or feel connected to someone else. Whitman makes me question whether any of these connections are genuine, because they’re mostly one-sided attempts by me trying to reach out and touch the author. Maybe that’s why we turn to blogging about books, to try to share these connections with other book-lovers. I have a lot to think about this week — hopefully next week’s poem leaves me feeling a little more optimistic.

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As always, I invite you to join me. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well! If you’re hesitant, take a peek at the free Leaves of Grass eBook at Project Gutenberg.

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3 thoughts on “#10 Whitman Wednesday: When I Read The Book

  1. Sharing and understanding books collectively is always a lot better than solitary reading, I think the connections we make through books are genuine, in fact we probably have a richer connection with the world than a lot of people. Travelling would be better but who has the money or time for that when there is a rent to be paid.

    • Yes, plus you can time travel with books, and that’s something no amount of money can buy when you’re actually traveling!

      I am very grateful to be finding some online pals such as you to chat with about books and such. It is much more rewarding than reading alone in my apartment. 🙂

      • Time travelling is great and not dangerous like some of those ages prove to be.

        Sharing our passion is great and you never know where it will end up, I have already been to the US and met three different bloggers as well as making friends with authors and bloggers all over the world I regularly email and Facebook and so on. You’re never alone on the blog and any time you fancy a chat just let me know!

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