From looking at the titles of Walt Whitman's vast collection of poetry in Leaves of Grass one would be able to surmise that the great American poet wrote about many subjects -- expressing his ideas and thoughts about everything from religion to Abraham Lincoln. Quite the opposite is true, Walt Whitman wrote only about a single subject which was so powerful in the mind of the poet that it consumed him to the point that whatever he wrote echoed of that subject. The beliefs and tenets of transcendentalism were the subjects that caused Whitman to write and carried through not only in the wording and imagery of his poems, but also in the revolutionary way that he chose to write his poetry. The basic assumptions and premises of transcendentalism can be seen in all of Whitman's poems, and are evident in two short poetic masterpieces: "A Noiseless Patient Spider" and "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer."
In the belief of transcendentalism, the reliance on intuition, instead of rationalization, became the means for a union between an individual's soul and the soul of the world or the cosmos. Called the Oversoul by Emerson, this collective soul gathered the soul of a person upon a person's death. To understand the Oversoul, one had to first understand oneself and then look toward nature as expressions and instructions for the living of one's life (Boller 1-3). Through all of Whitman's collections of poetry, essays, and letters, he quested to find the meaning of life and to understand the Oversoul, which the great poet referred to as the "float."
In "A Noiseless Patient, Whitman presents a simple analogy that compares a lone spider searching for a hold to his soul as...
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...au, Roger. The Transcendentalist Constant in American Literature. New York: New York UP, 1980.
Boller, Paul. American Transcendentalism, 1830-1860: An Intellectual Inquiry. New York: Putnam, 1974.
Eckley, Wilton. "Whitman's 'A Noiseless Patient Spider.'" The Explicator 22 (1963): 20.
Emmanuel, Lenny. "Whitman's Fusion of Science and Poetry." Walt Whitman Review 17 (1971): 73-81.
Lindfors, Berndt. "Whitman's 'When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer.'" Walt Whitman Review 10 (1964): 19-21.
Stedman, Edmund Clarence. "An Important American Critic Views Whitman." Critical Essays on Walt Whitman. Ed. James Woodress. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1983. 116-127.
Whitman, Walt. "The Noiseless Patient Spider." Leaves of Grass. New York: Penguin, 1980. 347-348.
Whitman, Walt. "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer." Leaves of Grass. New York: Penguin, 1980. 226-227.
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