Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Myself and Mine" (1860)
Author:
Dietrich, Deborah
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

In the 1860 Leaves "Myself and Mine" was the tenth poem of the "Leaves of Grass" cluster. It was second in another cluster named "Leaves of Grass" in the 1867 edition. In the editions of 1871–1872, and 1876, it was included in the "Passage to India" poems with its present title. The two original opening lines were an immediate call to action. "It is ended—I dally no more, / After to-day I inure myself to run, leap, swim, wrestle, fight" (1860 Leaves). Whitman deleted them in 1867. At the same time, he dropped the two lines (before the present line 26) which confessed "the evil I really am" (1860 Leaves).

In its declaration of personal intent, "Myself and Mine" is similar to the "Inscriptions" poems. The poet has accepted his vocation and he acknowledges his relation to the materials of poetry. Whereas in 1847 he had written in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that the most elevated office on earth was the presidency, now he feels that the brilliance of the United States resides not in the lawmakers, but in the common people. As a poet, he will extol the masses and praise "no eminent man." He will make poems out of the fiber of his age and will chisel them "with free stroke." Whitman assumes for the reader what he assumes for himself. "I charge you to leave all free, as I have left all free."

Advocating civil disobedience, he declares his independence in thinking and acting: "Let me have my own way, / Let others promulge the laws, I will make no account of the laws, / Let others praise eminent men and hold up peace, I hold up / agitation and conflict."

Half-tauntingly, he calls for an answer to the question, "Who are you? and what are you secretly guilty of all your life?" He then forbids any justification for guilty acts or any interpretations of his works. "I charge you forever reject those who expound me, for I cannot expound myself." Even the poet's language has its limitations. His words merely provoke and throw off possibilities of vision and vista.

In the opening line of the poem the "myself" is the shifting unity of body and soul, which for Whitman is the poem. As he says of his poetry in "So Long!"—"Camerado, this is no book, / Who touches this touches a man"—Whitman's poetry calls for the reader's collaboration. He asks the reader to commit his "self." This interrelatedness among poet, reader, and poetic text, which Whitman called a "gymnast's struggle," makes for ever changing and inexhaustible interpretations. Therefore, no system of thought or school can be imposed on it. In "Myself and Mine" Whitman demands his freedom, refusing to be isolated, defined, and reduced to a single meaning.

Bibliography

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Walt Whitman. New York: Chelsea House, 1985.

Duffey, Bernard. Poetry in America: Expression and Its Values in the Times of Bryant, Whitman, and Pound. Durham: Duke UP, 1978.

Pearce, Roy Harvey. "Whitman Justified: The Poet in 1860." Whitman: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Roy Harvey Pearce. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. 37–59.

Trachtenberg, Alan. "Whitman's Visionary Politics." Walt Whitman of Mickle Street: A Centennial Collection. Ed. Geoffrey M. Sill. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1994. 94–108.


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.