Poet, Nurse, Solider

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Buoyed with tremendous breath
       shall you be and dilated
I dilate you with tremendous
I buoy you up,
Every room of your house do
       I fill with armed men
Lovers of me, bafflers of hell.
Sleep! for I and they stand
       guard all this night
Not doubt, not fear, not
       Death shall lay finger
       upon you
God and I have embraced you, and
       henceforth possess you
       all to our myselves,
And when you rise in the
       morning you shall find it
       is so. --

Buoyed with tremendous strength ms

Unlike the pages examined above, this notebook page shows fewer cross-outs and second-thought revisions. Indeed, after the first line, Whitman seems to have written the passage in a single burst, line following upon line until God himself is excised--a consequence, we might say, of the energy and confidence of the poet's self-endowed resuscitative power. But shunting God aside in the rush of words has left the passage grammatically incorrect, though perhaps appropriately so: the "I" who embraces the dying man possesses multiple "selves," instead of a singular "myself." This is a familiar Whitmanian gesture: we might compare, for example, the opening line of "Song of Myself" (1855) that complexly links the speaker's self to others: "And what I assume you shall assume."

This page also details the speaker's healing powers, his dilation of the dying with "tremendous breath" through his poetry and through the audible rushings of his voice. Indeed the word has relevant and resonant meanings: religious ("Christianity dilates our whole being" [OED 1. b.]), medical and scientific ("Heat dilates matter."; one's bladder "dilates" [1.]), and oratorical or discursive (one dilates upon a theme, either verbally or in writing, by giving details, etc.). Thus dilation is a particularly appropriate polyvalent word for describing this composite poet's resurrection of the nearly-dead to new life.

But we might ask: why the armed men? Why does the poet as healer require this military presence in the house to stand guard? Or, thinking ahead to Whitman's role as nurse for wounded soldiers during the Civil War, what is to be done with the relation between nursing and soldiering, between healing and standing guard? And what do these have to do with the particular conception of The Poet and of Poetry that Whitman in these notebooks seems to be formulating?

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