Disparate Objects in Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass

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Reconciling Disparate Objects in Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman 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. H...

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