The poem expresses not only Whitman’s all-encompassing poetic vision, but also a radical imagining of a new kind of democracy for America and elsewhere. Published on the eve of the U.S. Civil War and revised during and after the war, Song of Myself ultimately teaches us not how to participate as individuals in a society, but how the “I” is never individual. To that end, Every Atom will take place as a conversation among multitudes: a renowned poet and translator, Christopher Merrill; a preeminent Whitman scholar, Ed Folsom; and you, along with many others who will enter into a spirited exchange about how this challenging and mind-altering poem accretes new meaning for every reader.
We will offer robust course materials, but just as important will be our lively and generous interactions as readers of the poem on our discussion boards and social media. We hope that these discussions will propel us all into myriad new ways of looking at ourselves and our world. Through reading Song of Myself, we’ll touch on such topics as democracy, sexuality and the body, science, politics, nature, and the cosmos. These topics will arise through a reading of the poem as well as through exploring the historical and textual matters surrounding it. Further, we’ll think about the problems of translating the poem as it moves into other languages and contexts.