Thursday, March 3, 2011
Whitman's poem, called "Bardic Symbols," is a classic example of themes like America, the everyman, and Christianity and spirituality, but, simultaneously, the poem is very difficult to understand and confusing due to the multiple symbols he uses. Basically, the speaker is walking along the shoreline, and some sticks wash up onto the beach before him, and he tries to study the useless garbage to find a hidden meaning. But, this task is extremely difficult because he is just unable to put his finger on what it might mean. And, by thinking of these sticks, the speaker also begins searching for the meaning of life. This same confusion is mentioned in William Dean Howells' criticism of "Bardic Symbols." Essentially, Howells says that no one can interpret this oddly twisted message because it is not their right to simply infer what Whitman's message is because only Whitman himself could know the true meaning. Whitman also, somehow, incorporates his ideas of the everyman, Christianity, and America into this general concept. First, the everyman is portrayed with the random "Joe Shmoe" walking on the beach because it is a very common place for people to go. Next, Whitman creates this little world in the poem, reflecting America as a whole. The ocean is America, and its job is to give out great wonders, represented by the sticks, in this case. It is like the ocean has secrets for the passerby, and this particular man happens to notice them. But, unfortunately, these secrets are not defined as absolute. In fact, they are nearly impossible to explain, even to begin scratching the surface. Their meaning is not just written down, and that is where all of the troubles come from in determining what to think of Whitman's writing. Whitman's views of Christianity work in the same basic manner. This "God" is an inanimate character who provides his best followers with a mysterious salvation in the alleged afterlife. Similar to how man does not know what happens after death, the speaker in the poem does not know what to do after the sticks have washed up on shore.