Leaves of Grass

Reconciling Disparate Objects in "Leaves of Grass"

Walt Whitman's begins this excerpt from Leaves of Grass by describing an elusive 'this':

"This is the meal pleasantly set . . . . this is the meat and drink for natural hunger."

These two clauses that are set next to each other describe 'this' as very different things. "A meal pleasantly set," evokes a quiet table in a genteel household. In contrast, "the meat and drink for natural hunger," recalls a more rugged table at which the food will be consumed after strenuous activity. How can one thing--'this'--have such opposing properties? The entire excerpt is defined by the outward contradictions such as this one. Whitman's poetic rhetoric, however, attempts to create an internal unity from the contradictions. By unifying things that seem diametrically opposed Whitman emphasizes the possibility for reconciliation between disparate objects.

Whitman places two contrasting ideas next to each other at all levels of the excerpt. The most prominent level at which he does this is in the images, as in the first line. He continues setting contrasting images on either side of ellipses when he again describes the 'this': "This is the touch of my lips to yours . . . ....

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