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.
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.