I Sing the Body Electric is a poem that celebrates the life of the body and its equal status with the soul. Walt Whitman is probably the greatest poet in the English language since William Shakespeare. Some might argue with this but there is no other poet who so muscularly tore the page to shreds with his wild, raging, soaring, lunatic language. I think Shakespeare would have liked and admired this man because it is only he who is a match for Shakespeare’s fearless destruction and rebuilding of language. I think that great poets always destroy before they create. To read Whitman’s massive lifelong work, Leaves of Grass, is to wake up and realize that poetry is like blood exploding through your body and spraying its meanings and music out all over the city. You cannot read Whitman and be the same as you were before reading him. He is a shock to the system.
He lived from 1819 to 1892 and is often called the father of free verse. His discovery of the loose free form of poetry is an astounding development that is still being worked out. The problem for today is that Whitman still has the hardest punch and could do terrible damage to most poets alive and writing today. It would not be a fair fight.
Here is the great I Sing the Body Electric, from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass book.
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