Walt Whitman’s Poem on Seers

Seeing in the Spirit Realm: From circa 1390.

Seeing in the Spirit Realm: From circa 1390.

Eidolons: A Poem on Seers

I’ve taken to reading poetry lately and was surprised to come across a poem on seers.  When I began this season of reading and contemplating poetry, being an American, I thought I’d start with Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, published in 1855. I came across “Eidolons” a few weeks ago and was struck by the opening refrain, “I met a seer…”

Well then.

At the time, I didn’t know what the word eidolon meant. I do now:  apparition, shade, or ghost.  In other words, it means a spirit.

The poem refers to many ideas that seers say they see, including orbs, the future, multi-colored lights and of course spirits. I’ve read the poem many times and still find it fascinating.

I read someone’s dissertation on the poem, which argued for a naturalistic and non-supernatural metaphorical interpretation of it.  Maybe. I’m sure this person would interpret the Bible along non-supernatural, materialist lines as well.

Eidolons is a remarkably abstract and obscure poem – kind of like how seers have a hard time understanding what it is they see – from a poet who usually thrived on clarity.

Anyway, however you want to interpret it, I thought the seers who view this site might find comfort in it, and those of us who are not seers may gather some understanding about what it is they see.

Eidolons

       I met a seer,
  Passing the hues and objects of the world,
  The fields of art and learning, pleasure, sense,
       To glean eidolons.

       Put in thy chants said he,
  No more the puzzling hour nor day, nor segments, parts, put in,
  Put first before the rest as light for all and entrance-song of all,
       That of eidolons.

       Ever the dim beginning,
  Ever the growth, the rounding of the circle,
  Ever the summit and the merge at last, (to surely start again,)
       Eidolons! eidolons!

       Ever the mutable,
  Ever materials, changing, crumbling, re-cohering,
  Ever the ateliers, the factories divine,
       Issuing eidolons.

       Lo, I or you,
  Or woman, man, or state, known or unknown,
  We seeming solid wealth, strength, beauty build,
       But really build eidolons.

       The ostent evanescent,
  The substance of an artist's mood or savan's studies long,
  Or warrior's, martyr's, hero's toils,
       To fashion his eidolon.

       Of every human life,
  (The units gather'd, posted, not a thought, emotion, deed, left out,)
  The whole or large or small summ'd, added up,
       In its eidolon.

       The old, old urge,
  Based on the ancient pinnacles, lo, newer, higher pinnacles,
  From science and the modern still impell'd,
       The old, old urge, eidolons.

       The present now and here,
  America's busy, teeming, intricate whirl,
  Of aggregate and segregate for only thence releasing,
       To-day's eidolons.

       These with the past,
  Of vanish'd lands, of all the reigns of kings across the sea,
  Old conquerors, old campaigns, old sailors' voyages,
       Joining eidolons.

       Densities, growth, facades,
  Strata of mountains, soils, rocks, giant trees,
  Far-born, far-dying, living long, to leave,
       Eidolons everlasting.

       Exalte, rapt, ecstatic,
  The visible but their womb of birth,
  Of orbic tendencies to shape and shape and shape,
       The mighty earth-eidolon.

       All space, all time,
  (The stars, the terrible perturbations of the suns,
  Swelling, collapsing, ending, serving their longer, shorter use,)
       Fill'd with eidolons only.

       The noiseless myriads,
  The infinite oceans where the rivers empty,
  The separate countless free identities, like eyesight,
       The true realities, eidolons.

       Not this the world,
  Nor these the universes, they the universes,
  Purport and end, ever the permanent life of life,
       Eidolons, eidolons.

       Beyond thy lectures learn'd professor,
  Beyond thy telescope or spectroscope observer keen, beyond all mathematics,
  Beyond the doctor's surgery, anatomy, beyond the chemist with his chemistry,
       The entities of entities, eidolons.

       Unfix'd yet fix'd,
  Ever shall be, ever have been and are,
  Sweeping the present to the infinite future,
       Eidolons, eidolons, eidolons.

       The prophet and the bard,
  Shall yet maintain themselves, in higher stages yet,
  Shall mediate to the Modern, to Democracy, interpret yet to them,
       God and eidolons.

       And thee my soul,
  Joys, ceaseless exercises, exaltations,
  Thy yearning amply fed at last, prepared to meet,
       Thy mates, eidolons.

       Thy body permanent,
  The body lurking there within thy body,
  The only purport of the form thou art, the real I myself,
       An image, an eidolon.

       Thy very songs not in thy songs,
  No special strains to sing, none for itself,
  But from the whole resulting, rising at last and floating,
       A round full-orb'd eidolon. 

source: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1322/1322-h/1322-h.htm#link2H_4_0008

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