Metaphysical Ambivalence Walt Whitmans Song of Myself explores the philosophical nature of this world. By definition, metaphysics is the study that seeks to uncover the nature of reality and of being itself. In not directly committing to one of the already accepted and more traditional doctrines of materialism or idealism, the poem suggests the existence of a more radical theory that draws its support from both extremes of the metaphysical spectrum. Whitman challenges the notion that the nature of the universe lies in a singular perception of reality by presenting evidence in favor of both rationales but ultimately supporting the idea of dualism in which enlightenment arises from an integration of both viewpoints and not exclusive adherence to one or the other. Seemingly by design, Whitman obscures the true metaphysic of the text by juxtaposing instances of both materialism and idealism. Initially rejecting social constructs like words,music or rhyme [and]custom or lecture (ln. 76) and celebrating the peace and joy and knowledge that pass all the art and arguments of the earth, (ln. 82) he reveals his idealistic convictions in regard to the nature of reality. Whitmans lack of interest in all worldly entities and his desire for the transcendent forms of peace and knowledge justify the predication of the poem as an idealistic text.
However, despite these tendencies, Whitman immediately contradicts himself by reveling in the [r]ich apple-blossomed earth (ln. 445) and embracing unspeakable passionate love (ln. 448).
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Although not entirely discounting the importance of a higher reality by virtue of the reference to love, Whitman allows his temporal desires to emerge and consequently causes the poem to develop a materialistic guise, which serves as an antithesis to the idealism and establishes ambivalence over the real metaphysic. This intentional discrepancy insinuates that the nature of the universe does not adhere to a singular ideology but rather incorporates many different ideas into one absolute and comprehensive philosophy. Whitman, by combining examples of materialism and idealism into one poem, implies that an individual will ultimately find secular transcendence. As a poet of the body [a]ndof the soul (ln.
422-423), Whitman finds that the fleshly and [the] sensual (ln. 500) are as enlightening as the pleasures of heaven (ln. 424).
Thus, an individual, though living in the material world, does not have to wait until death and their subsequent passage into Canaan to attain enlightenment, for clear and sweet is [their] souland clear and sweet is all that is not [their] soul (ln. 44).
Brilliantly placing the material world and the higher reality on equal planes in order to justify his own spiritual worship of the present, Whitman concludes that the body and the soul are equally essential for discovering the true nature of reality. This philosophical unification and conjecture that [t]he palpable is in its place and the impalpable is in its place (ln.
352) provides the basis for the poems unique metaphysic of dualism. Although overtly indecisive about the metaphysic of the poem, Whitman utilizes the discrepancy to inevitably elucidate it as being dualistic. Perhaps to justify his own aspirations of attaining enlightenment through an integrated process of earthly satisfaction and transcendent yearning, Whitmans use of dualism provides the poem with insightful passages and controversial meaning. His equalization of the body and the mind, though most likely contrived with good intentions, may also inadvertently have inherent social ramifications. As an advocate of non-conformity, Whitman may well have used this poem as a vehicle for societal deviancy..