Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Are You the New Person Drawn toward Me?" (1860)
Author:
Butler, Frederick J.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Entitled "To a new personal admirer" in an early manuscript, this poem first appeared in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass as number 12 of the "Calamus" cluster. It appeared under its present title in the 1867 edition.

In this as in other poems, most notably "Whoever You are Holding Me Now in Hand," Whitman employs the technique of addressing the poem to another person, presumably the reader. In both poems, Whitman immediately warns that he is "far different" from what might be supposed. In a number of the "Calamus" poems, including this one, James E. Miller, Jr., suggests the poet is proclaiming his difference—that his outer appearance is by no means an indication of the depth of his "spiritual attachment to others" (65). Such a difference is at the heart of this poem, which asserts an essential duality. Whitman asks if the potential new friend will find in him an ideal, a lover. Will the poet's friendship provide "unalloy'd satisfaction?" Is Whitman "trusty and faithful... a real heroic man?" These are lofty qualities many admirers hope to find in great artists. But Whitman then suggests an opposing reality by asking if it "may be all maya, illusion?" He proposes that there is a distinction between the reality of himself and his image in the mind of the potential admirer.

The Upanishads, part of Vedic literature, also discriminate between the real world, Brahman, and the world of illusion, maya. In his commentary on the Brahma-Sutras, Sri Sankaracarya discusses the difference between the one who experiences and the thing experienced. Furthermore, he elaborates by pointing out that in reality such a difference does not exist.

In this poem and throughout much of his poetry, Whitman advances the person addressed toward a higher level of understanding of the difference between the illusion of what is experienced and the reality of it.

Bibliography

Miller, James E., Jr. A Critical Guide to "Leaves of Grass." Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1957.

Radhakrishnan, S., ed. The Principal Upanishads. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1989.

Sankaracarya, Sri. Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya of Sri Sankaracarya. Trans. Swami Gambhirananda. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1983.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader's Edition. Ed. Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley. New York: New York UP, 1965.


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