Bloom on Whitman: Elegist for the Self


Perhaps all that Whitman shared with Shakespeare, Goethe, and Henrik Ibsen was an implicit insight that the self was a necessary fiction, an illusion so desired that leaves of grass would sprout from the barren rock of being. A smoky taste flows but then ebbs in our reception of agonies as one of Walt’s changes of garments. Rancidity gathers, though it does not fall, and our self-vividness grows less bright. We turn blankly and discover that no direction is at home in us. … Our prime celebrant, Walt, is also our greatest elegist for the self, for the daemon errant in time’s wastages. Whitman’s art abides in nuance, indirection, gesture, subtle evasiveness, insinuation, ineluctable modalities of the visible, the signature of all things that he summons us to come and see. Shamanistic shape-shifter, Hermetic androgyne, he indeed is prelapsarian Adam, early in the morning of what has become our Evening Land.

-Harold Bloom,  The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime

2 thoughts on “Bloom on Whitman: Elegist for the Self

  1. But that before all my arrogant poems the real Me stands yet
    untouch’d, untold, altogether unreach’d,
    Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and
    With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written

    Liked by 1 person

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