Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Spontaneous Me" (1856)
Author:
Mullins, Maire
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

First published as the twenty-eighth poem in the second edition (1856) of Leaves of Grass, and originally titled "Bunch Poem," "Spontaneous Me" was included as number 5 in the "Enfans d'Adam" (later "Children of Adam") cluster. The first line of this poem was added in 1860, and became the poem's title in 1867.

Without the opening line, the emphasis of the beginning of the poem would shift dramatically to the relationship between the speaker of the poem and the "friend" who accompanies him. The poem describes not a particular relationship but a way of relating to nature and to sexuality, and posits an attitude of acceptance and openness to the human body and to the physicality of the natural world. Lines 4 and 5 collapse time, from the "blossoms of the mountain ash" in spring to the "same late in autumn," providing a sense of cyclical change as a backdrop for the change which is recorded later in the poem, from nighttime fantasies of adolescence to the maternity and paternity of adulthood.

Whitman had marked line 10 for deletion in his Blue Book (Whitman's personal copy of the 1860 Leaves). The line, however, remained. This section of the poem names directly the connection between the human male body and poetry; out of this connection comes the catalogue of "Love-thoughts," which culminate in the description of the bee "that gripes" the flower as an analogy for human sexual intercourse.

The second half of the poem begins with an image of two lovers sleeping peacefully together (perhaps the "friend" of line 2, now after having made love). This image of restful repose is followed by a new character in the poem, a boy who "confides" to the speaker his dreams of unsatisfied longing, and these dreams offer a direct contrast to the "Love-thoughts" section. Instead of "love-juice" and "love-odor," the "no-form'd stings" and the "hubb'd sting of myself" take precedence. As in "The Sleepers," the speaker merges with other sleepers (both young men and young women) like the boy, who also suffer from unquenched desire for physical contact. Their desire culminates only in frustrated acts of "torment."

The final section of the poem (divided by a semicolon, as the second section is at the end of line 17) begins with a striking image of reciprocity in contrast to the frustration of the preceding section: the speaker accepting the "souse upon me of my lover the sea, as I lie willing and naked." The catalogue which follows contains images of fruition and ripeness in nature and in humanity. The poem ends with a salutation to procreation, and a parting gesture in which this "bunch" (of semen, of words, of poems) is tossed "carelessly to fall where it may" because forethought and calculation would go against the spontaneous impulse which the poem advocates.

Bibliography

Chosy, Shirley Ann. "Whitman's 'Spontaneous Me': Sex as Symbol." Walt Whitman Review 25 (1979): 113–117.

Gordon, Travis. "Whitman's 'Spontaneous Me.'" Explicator 52 (1994): 219–222.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. Whitman's Poetry of the Body: Sexuality, Politics, and the Text. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1989.

Larson, Kerry C. Whitman's Drama of Consensus. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988.

Miller, Edwin Haviland. Walt Whitman's Poetry: A Psychological Journey. 1968. New York: New York UP, 1969.

Waskow, Howard J. Whitman: Explorations in Form. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1966.


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