SPARACIO | Auto College Song


Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” begins with the line, “I celebrate myself and sing myself,” a line that has stuck with me since I first read the poem. But what does that mean?

Whitman, a Long Islander who loved the sound of ocean waves, first released “Song of Myself” in 1855, meditating on the interdependence of all individual beings. It reflects on the diversity of American life and attempts to weave the country together by conveying the idea of ​​unity in diversity and emphasizing an ethic of care for each other and for the world we inhabit. . The poem, divided into 52 sections, was revised throughout his life, reflecting Whitman’s unique approach to poetry: an approach that reflects the transient and sometimes random nature of life itself. Cornell reflects the interconnectedness that Whitman emphasizes, in the way he brings together several different schools under one umbrella, conveying the theme of unity in diversity. In a society that increasingly emphasizes specialization, Whitman’s emphasis on interconnectedness speaks to the importance of a liberal arts curriculum.

One of Whitman’s famous lines is “I contain multitudes” relating to the amorphous, shifting and even somewhat mysterious nature of the self. This feeling is linked to the self-knowledge we acquire in college. Self-knowledge is a term used in psychology to define knowledge of one’s own mental states, processes, and dispositions. We gain this knowledge at Cornell by taking new courses, meeting new people, and participating in new experiences. It is a complex and personal process. We learn the kind of friends we want to be, we learn how we want to be loved, and the kind of student we want to be. On the other hand, we think about how we will fit into the world once we leave Cornell, what kind of job we want to have, what kind of path we want to take to get there, what kind of life we hope to live. We think about our hometowns and our personal stories and decide how we can shape the things that initially shaped us. As TS Elliot says, “The past should be changed by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.” Whitman reminds us that we are privileged to become and that we discover through friendships that we are connected to everyone. To understand the multitudes we contain, we must recognize the multitudes of others.

Whitman states: “It’s the city and I’m one of the citizens, everything interests me, the rest interests me, politics, wars, markets, newspapers, schools….” Throughout the poem, Whitman attempts to bring together the individual self and the collective nation. In doing so, he highlights one of the paradoxes of democracy; how to maintain unity and equality while ensuring enough freedom for the individual to break down boundaries. The First Amendment freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution shape our own learning environment. Being able to speak freely and articulate the viewpoints we believe in is essential to personal development and building true community.

Whitman wrote during the Civil War era. Since January 6, 2021, there have been allegations that America is approaching another civil war. Our media is awash with vicious, often misleading attempts to dehumanize “others”. Whitman wrote, “Anyone who degrades another degrades me. It is a sentiment that American politics has lost. Wickedness permeates our political discourse. The plethora of ad hominem arguments, vomited by the former president on Twitter, have incited imitators and insurgents. Whitman reminds us to respect the common humanity we share even if we do not respect racist/sexist views, spread through deliberate misinformation, etc. An ethic of caring rather than an ethic of resentment points towards understanding rather than dehumanization. In “Over the Carnage Rose Prophetic a Voice,” Whitman had the nerve to write, at a time when the nation was torn apart: “Do not be discouraged — Affection will still solve all problems of freedom; / Those who love each other will become invincible.

Beyond being part of a collective nation or collective politics, we are also part of the wider world and a vast ecology of living things. Whitman is recognized as an eco-poet, creating poems on environmental themes. He states, “I believe that a leaf of grass is nothing less than the travel work of the stars” – all being is interconnected and precious. He updates his vision of democracy through nature. He uses the grass symbol to express egalitarianism stating, “It is the grass that grows wherever there is land and water, it is the common air that bathes the globe.” He sees a symbol of national politics in the grass, but he also sees that human existence is intertwined with this grass. Many believe the world exists to meet our needs, but in a time of global warming we need to relearn our place in the world. Given recent natural disasters – the floods in Pakistan, the devastation of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico and Canada, the fires in California and the typhoon that hit the northern Philippines – we see that we are all interconnected and responsible towards each other. Geopolitically, the fossil fuels supplied by Russia will not be supplied this winter; many European countries are facing an energy crisis. This war could push European nations to focus on renewable energy.

As we belong to a larger community of living beings, we also belong to the larger universe. Whitman states, “And I say to any man or woman, let your soul stand still and calm before a million universes.” In my oceanography class, I was introduced to Carl Sagan’s statement that all human history took place “on a speck of dust suspended in a ray of sunshine…”. As Cornellians, we belong in many places: the universe, the Milky Way, the solar system, planet Earth, and the continents, countries, cities, and towns we call home. As we inhabit this small campus on a hill, let us remember to treat the people and the world around us with care.

Rebecca Sparacio (she) is a junior from the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]The space between takes place every other Wednesday this semester.


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