Sample Chapter: The World and Walt Whitman

Please find below a sample chapter from The American Renaissance Tarot ©.  Remember that if you commission a Tarot card image via our Indiegogo campaign, you'll be in the running to win a handmade Tarot box featuring Emerson as Magician and Whitman as World! 

 

XXI.    THE WORLD

Few books in history have produced such a revolution in literary manners as Walt Whitman’s debut book of poetry, Leaves of Grass, which sprang up in the summer of 1855 as a slender green quarto with sprouting letters that evoked the title.  Whitman did not affix his own name to the volume’s spine nor to its title page, and the inset features a photographic reproduction of the author in the clothes of a laborer; his posture is insouciant.  The casual yet intimate image dares you to pick up the gauntlet Whitman has thrown down in the opening lines of “Song of Myself”:

 


                        I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
                        And what I assume you shall assume,
                        For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

                        I loafe and invite my soul,
                        I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

Will you read on with this leaner and loafer?  Will you let him assume you consume you?  “Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,” the poet whispers seductively.  “Clear and sweet is my soul,” Whitman assures you.  And then – “clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.”

  Detail of the  World

Detail of the World

The World card is an emblem of fullness.  There is perhaps no more welcome image to see in your spread.  Whatever your current life situation, the World conveys the comforting sense that all is as it should be.  You may as well lie down in the grass and invite your soul to savor this precious moment.  You are at one with the world, and the world itself is a symbol of harmony and integration.  When Whitman finally gets around to identifying himself, almost midway through the 1300 lines that comprise “Song of Myself,” he is “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos.”  A kosmos: a complete system and theory of the universe.  How does any one individual get away with making such a claim?  Whitman approximates totality with “catalogues,” epic lists of all the natural and human forms he can contain with his omnificent vision.  “Of every hue and cast am I, of every rank and religion,/ A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker,/ Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.”  He is “the poet of the woman the same as the man.”  If you’ve drawn the World card, you have the capacity to understand such a generous and far-reaching perspective.  You are motivated by compassion and the exquisite conviction that every living creature carries within it some portion of the divine spark.

  Frontispiece of Whitman from   Leaves of Grass

Frontispiece of Whitman from Leaves of Grass

The unbridled sexuality Whitman displayed in Leaves of Grass sent shockwaves through Victorian America.  In “Song of Myself,” he performs a sort of Hegelian erotics, his fervent desire for the Other allowing him to subsume every duality – human/animal, body/soul, life/death –  into his cosmic vision.  With his unconventional metrics and ecstatic tone, Whitman achieved something remarkable.  He embodied the essence of democracy with his love for all Americans, taking as his symbol the ubiquitous and unassuming grass, which grows equally among Americans of every station.  The World is a sign of completeness, though not necessarily of perfection.  If you need a brush-up on the difference, you could do worse than to spend an afternoon perusing “Song of Myself.”  Its final stanza enshrines the notion that the poet-lover-watcher-self is never far from where you stand right now: “Failing to find me at first keep encouraged,/ Missing me one place search another,/ I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

 

IN A READING

  Walt Whitman in   1887    

Walt Whitman in 1887

 

  • Totality
  • Integration
  • Harmony
  • Completion
  • Kosmos
  • Reconciling Opposites
  • Bisexuality
  • Transgender Identity
  • Democracy
  • Intimacy
  • Empathy
  • Contentment 
  • “Urge and urge and urge, always the procreant urge of the world”                    
  • Happiness
  • Peace