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Song of Myself

By
Published by Shambhala on 2018-11-20
Paperback: £8.99
POETRY, FICTION / Historical, LITERARY COLLECTIONS, FICTION / Anthologies (multiple authors), BIOGRAPHY and AUTOBIOGRAPHY, REFERENCE / Writing Skills


One of the best-known and most stirring American poems, brilliantly edited by Stephen Mitchell, now available in the Shambhala Pocket Library series.

An undeniable and beloved classic of American poetry, “Song of Myself” was originally published as part of Leaves of Grass, with Whitman expanding, revising, and editing it in subsequent editions for much of his life. Here, Stephen Mitchell has gone back to the first edition, only substituting revisions from later editions that express the original vision and clarity of the piece.

Tangling with themes of the self, nature, and one’s place in the universe, Whitman’s labor of language comes again and again to a simple yet astonishing conclusion—“I contain multitudes”—that everything, even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant blade of grass and tiny ant have inside them the infinite universe.  

This is Whitman at his most wild and raw, as large and lusty as life, fulfilling his promise to all future generations:

I too am not a bit tamed . . . . I too am untranslatable,

I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

This book is part of the Shambhala Pocket Library series.  

The Shambhala Pocket Library is a collection of short, portable teachings from notable figures across religious traditions and classic texts. The covers in this series are rendered by Colorado artist Robert Spellman. The books in this collection distill the wisdom and heart of the work Shambhala Publications has published over 50 years into a compact format that is collectible, reader-friendly, and applicable to everyday life.


(Paperback (Reissue), 2018-11-20)
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ASIN: 1611806453
ISBN: 9781611806458
EAN: 9781611806458

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vii EDITOR'S PREFACE 'Song of Myself? is by far the greatest poem ever written by an American. At each rereading I feel exhilarated, as if for the first time, by its freshness and breadth of vision, its bodiliness, its high spirits, its astonishing empathy, by the freedom and goofiness and dignity of its language, and, not least, by its spiritual insight. It is a miracle of a poem. A few words about the text presented here. Whitman's vision and his language were at their most powerful in the first edition of Leaves of Grass, published in 1855. As he grew older, his insight faded, and with it the vivacity of his words. Yet in each successive edition he kept tinkering with 'Song of Myself? and the other early poems'adding, deleting, revising. And while certain of these revisions are excellent, most of them are disastrous. This has led to an affectionate frustration among some of Whitman's readers; we want the best of all possible editions. For example, in a passionate and deservedly famous passage about music the text of the 1855 edition reads:

viii? EDITOR'S PREFACE I hear the violincello or man's heart's complaint, And hear the keyed cornet or else the echo of sunset. I hear the chorus . . . . it is a grand-opera . . . . this indeed is music! A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me, The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full. I hear the trained soprano . . . . she convulses me like the climax of my love-grip; The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies, It wrenches unnamable ardors from my breast, It throbs me to gulps of the farthest down horror, It sails me . . . . I dab with bare feet . . . . they are licked by the indolent waves, I am exposed . . . . cut by bitter and poisoned hail, Steeped amid honeyed morphine . . . . my windpipe squeezed in the fakes of death, Let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles, And that we call Being. Whitman incorporated two brilliant revisions in the second (1856) edition. There, line two reads:

EDITOR'S PREFACE'ix I hear the keyed cornet, it glides quickly in through my ears, it shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast. And line eight: It wrenches such ardors from me, I did not know I possessed them In 1860 he rewrote the transition from lines twelve to thirteen in this way: my windpipe throttled in fakes of death, At length let up again to feel On the other hand, in the 1867 and later editions Whitman ruined the sixth line by replacing its dangerous sexuality with a phrase that is colorless, almost meaningless, and a rhythm straight out of a hymnbook: I hear the trained soprano (what work with hers is this') And he entirely deleted the weird and thrilling ninth line.

x? EDITOR'S PREFACE If I were forced to choose between the original and any of the revised versions, I would certainly choose the former. But why give up anything that makes a great poem even greater? Why not keep the revisions that enliven and clarify, and disregard the ones that don't? The passage then sounds like this: I hear the violincello or man's heart's complaint, I hear the keyed cornet, it glides quickly in through my ears, it shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast. I hear the chorus . . . . it is a grand-opera . . . . this indeed is music! A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me, The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full. I hear the trained soprano . . . . she convulses me like the climax of my love-grip; The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies, It wrenches such ardors from me, I did not know I possessed them, It throbs me to gulps of the farthest down horror,

EDITOR'S PREFACE? xi It sails me . . . . I dab with bare feet . . . . they are licked by the indolent waves, I am exposed . . . . cut by bitter and poisoned hail, Steeped amid honeyed morphine . . . . my windpipe throttled in fakes of death, At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles, And that we call Being. In this conflated version of 'Song of Myself,' I have used the first edition as my main source, and I have adopted any revision that seemed to be even a minor improvement. The section numbers, which first appeared in 1867, may be useful in providing a more readily apparent structure, but they are often arbitrary, and they impede the uninterrupted flow of one stanza into the next, over the whole expanse of the poem. Although none of the poems had titles in the first edition of Leaves of Grass, I have kept the 1876 edition's 'Song of Myself ? because it is so familiar. Certainly the poem embodies an outrageous egotism, an 'I? so shamelessly naked that even a bodhisattva can admire it. But Whitman was also writing about selflessness, about the Self beyond the self ('I and this mystery here we stand'; 'Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am'), and it would have been just as appropriate to call the poem 'Song of My Self,' in the Upanishads? sense of the word:

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