Notes to Poem: "Song of the Self"

Peter Y. Chou,

Preface: On Wednesday, January 14, 2008, for his "Occasions of Poetry" Stanford Workshop, Mark Doty showed the class Walt Whitman's photos 1 & 2 taken in 1854 before his Leaves of Grass publication (1855). He also played a 36-second Edison wax-cylinder recording of Whitman reading "America". Since Edison and Whitman both lived in New Jersey, it is likely this is Whitman's original voice. Doty asked each of us to read a line of Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry". As luck would have it, I was out of breath reading this one line of Whitman going on for three pages! Doty's assignment for the following week was to read Whitman's "Song of Myself" (1855) outdoors and write a poem in his style, or a response poem, or a critical essay analyzing the poem, or an audio-visual presentation. My 1855 paperback edition of Leaves of Grass is in storage or buried in one of the boxes in my apartment. I found a free brand new copy of Leaves of Grass in a box of discarded books outside Stanford Meyer Library a few years ago. However this Barnes & Noble copy turns out to be Whitman's 1892 "Deathbed Edition". Doty said this is the copy we should avoid at all cost as Whitman got senile in old age and ruined his earlier version through repeated revisions. I went to Los Altos Library and found most copies of Leaves of Grass were the "Deathbed Edition". Finally I found Walt Whitman: Selected Poems 1855-1892 edited by Gary Schmidgall (1999) that had the 1855 original "Leaves of Grass" with numbered lines to 1336 (Here's an online 1855 version). I checked the passages which appealed to me and began writing "Song to the Self" in the style and in response to Whitman's "Song of Myself". On the right side of a lined yellow pad, I'd jot down the line # in Whitman's classic poem and write my response to Whitman. On the left side, I'd jot down references from sacred scriptures to back up my allusions to the Soul, Spirit, Mind— that the Hindu sages would call the Self (Atman, Brahman, Om, Purusha, Satchitananda). This is the longest poem I've ever written and didn't realize the passage of time even with sunrise on Sunday. Writing this poem energized me and it was a double pleasure finding passages in sacred scriptures for references to this poem. I've noted Whitman's line #s in parenthesis in this response to his Song of Myself (1855). On January 21, Mark Doty apologized to the class that the assignment was to respond to one section of "Song of Myself" from Whitman's first 1855 edition. But Whitman's 1855 poem had no numbered sections. The 52 numbered sections were added on in later editions. Some students had numbered sections added by the publisher to Whitman's first edition, and wrote refreshing and innovative revisions. Had I known about selecting only one section of Whitman's poem, this "Song of the Self" would not have been so expansive. But I'd glad it was done with great joy tuning into Whitman's spirit in the crafting of this poem.

Commentary on Poem: "Song of the Self"

I celebrate the Self— / And what I know you shall know, /
For every wonder I see you shall see.
I'm imitating Whitman line for line in this first stanza. Whitman's "myself" connotates ego, which most of us have been celebrating too long. Our constant attention to "I, me, mine, myself" is what ails the world today. Our need for ego gratification makes us less sensitive to the needs of others. We do not practice the virtues of kindness, forgiveness, and tolerance to others because we're too greedy for ourselves. Worst of all it prevents our immersion in "The Self" which is our true nature that is Infinite and Eternal. Since the Self is within us already, what the sages have shown me, I pass it on to my readers.

I bow to that Supreme Spirit in you
Whitman: "I loafe and invite my soul," (4)
Namasté or Namaskar in Sanskrit is a common spoken greeting or salutation in India. The same hands folded gesture is made wordlessly upon departure. In yoga, Namasté means "The light in me honors the light in you," as spoken by both the yoga instructor and yoga students. Taken literally, it means "I bow to you". The word is from Sanskrit (namas): to bow, reverential salutation, and (te): "to you". Here I bow to my readers, not to their name or form (nama-rupa) but to the Great Spirit within them.

[the Spirit] that moves and moves not, both far and near,
within and without... in spiral galaxies & DNA in you.

Whitman: "I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease... observing a spear of summer grass."
I'm invoking the Spirit in spirals of outer galaxies and in our DNA.
Isa Upanshad I.5 (600 B.C.): "The Spirit moves and moves not.
He is far and near. He is within all and outside all."

(translated by Juan Mascaró, Penguin Books, 1965, p. 49)

Stop the flow of thoughts and you shall find the origin of all poems—
Whitman: "Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems." (27)— an incisive line and powerful revelation! Whitman is stopping time to gain access to the beginning of poems. I invoked Patanjali's Yoga Sutra I.2 (200 B.C.):
"Yoga is the stopping of mental flow of thoughts." Once the student stops his mind's agitations, then the Great Spirit flows through. I disagree with Whitman that you can "possess" the origin of all poems. The mystery of creation cannot be possessed by anyone. We may find a glimpse, a glimmering, and then let go. Basho (1644-1694) has the right idea in Kawazu Awase (1686) when he says "Leave your ego behind, otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry comes naturally when you have become one with the object. When you plunge deep into the object, you'll see a hidden glimmering there."

Where do all these words come from?
They come from emptiness. All form arise
    from emptiness and into emptiness they return.
Emptiness is their beginning and also their end.

Whitman: "I have heard what the talkers were talking...
    the talk of the beginning and the end,"
Chandogya Upanishad I.9.1 (500 B.C.): Wherefrom do all these worlds come?
They come from space. All beings arise from space, and into space they return:
space is indeed their beginning, and space is their final end."

(translated by Juan Mascaró, Penguin Books, 1965, p. 113)
I've substituted "words" for "worlds" while quoting this sacred Hindu text. In Sanskrit akasa is often translated as "upper space", it may also interpreted as aether or quintessence of the Greeks or emptiness (sunyata) of the Buddhist. I'm focusing in "emptiness" not in the metaphysical sense, but as a metaphor for the blank page before words appear in ink or the "Empty Mind" before an idea strikes the poet to write.

Let scientists talk of beginnings and ends,
    and investors of pasts and futures.

Whitman: "But I do not talk of the beginning or the end" (31)
Astrophysicists and cosmologists are always dating the universe's beginning and debating its demise whether by bang or whimper. Profiteers on Wall Street and the Commodities Markets are always calculating with computer models using past data to predict the price of futures. Whitman does not talk of beginning or end, past or future, because he's living in the now, experiencing the eternal present moment.

The poet stands at the center of now— (32, 43)
Lu Chi's Wen Fu: The Art of Writing I.1 (300 A.D.): "The poet stands at the centre of the universe contemplating the Enigma." The first line of this great Chinese classic on writing states the importance of the creative process by placing the poet at the center of the universe contemplating the Mystery. I've substituted "now" for "universe" since Whitman says in lines 32 & 43: "There was never any more inception than there is now,... I and this mystery here we stand." So 1550 years before Whitman, Lu Chi begins with the poet standing before the Mystery ready to dip his pen into the ink.

for never will there be a more perfect
present moment to hear an inner music.

Whitman: "And will never be any more perfection than there is now." (34)
Carpe diem is a phrase from a Latin poem by Horace (65 B.C.-8 B.C.) meaning "seize the day". In my "ABC Book for the New Year", I wrote "N is for Now— where everything happens this present moment." The poet seizes the present moment centered in the now. With "eyes closed, he hears an inner music" (Wen Fu II.1), the poet gathers his words and images to begin his poem.

All things from heaven and earth flow from this pen.
Whitman: "Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now." (35)
Wen Fu III.8: "All things from heaven and earth flow from his brush."

Out of non-being, being is born—
out of silence, the poet weaves a song.

These lines are from Lu Chi's Wen Fu: The Art of Writing IV.2 (300 A.D.) translated by Sam Hamill (Breitenbush Books, Portland, OR, 1987, p. 11). There are no lines in "Songs of Myself" corresponding to these images. I've changed Hamill's "produces a song" to "weaves a song".

Write and write and write—
    the sound of one hand clapping
    is the sound of one hand writing!

Whitman: "Urge and urge and urge" (36) which I've changed to "Write and write and write"— this is the urgency of the writer to put pen to paper and let the ink spill out in abundance. It also hints to the Zen koan "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" For we writers, a good answer is "the sound of one hand writing!"

Where is the winged horse to take me (42)
    out of the dimness toward the light? (38)
Sure there is a way to plumb the depths (41)
    of mind, soul, spirit, and you. (44)
These images are Whitman's lines 38 "Out of dimness opposite equals advance", 41-44 "plumb in the uprights... Stout as a horse... I and this mystery here we stand... Clear and sweet is my soul". Bellerophon caught and tamed the winged horse Pegasus which he presented to the Muses at Mount Parnassus. Here Pegasus was at the service of the poets. The winged horse is symbolic of the poet's flight of imagination.

I am content when sitting still and know
    I am That— beyond waking, dream, and sleep
but also joyful when I dance swirling
    around the ballroom to music of the spheres.

Whitman: "I am satisfied... I see, dance, laugh, sing;" (51)
Mundaka Upanishad III.1 (circa 500 B.C.) has this beautiful image: "There are two birds, two sweet friends, who dwell on the self-same tree. The one eats the fruits thereof, and the other looks on in silence." This is a metaphor for the active and contemplative life debated by medieval scholastics as to which activity is better in ascending to heaven. I say both— When alone in my room meditating, it's a joy communing with the true Self feeling great peace. But I'm equally happy waltzing around the ballroom with a dance partner swirling like spheres in a cosmic carousel.

I believe in you my soul... that the pure in heart
    will find happiness, that the empty mind will experience
    enlightenment, that the path of sages will bring bliss.

Whitman: "I believe in you my soul... (73)
These words inspired me to outline sadhana— the spiritual path to enlightenment. Having met sages with compassion and wisdom, I've followed their disciplines and have experienced much blessings in my life. In Cosmic Consciousness (1901), Richard Bucke (1837-1902) who met Whitman in 1877 and became a close friend and his literary executor, dates Whitman's new cosmic sense to June 1853 of his 35th year. Bucke points to line 73 as Whitman's awakening to the Soul. We find the date in line 78: "I mind how we lay in June, such a transparent summer morning:"

Practice, practice, practice— be true to the path.
When I began the spiritual path in 1968 at Cornell while working on my doctorate in physical chemistry of macromolecules, I followed Buddha's Eightfold Path to enlightenment. Since desires are impediments to spiritual awakening, I tried to relinquish much of it in my life. At times I had doubts where would this take me, but I believed the words of the sages to be sincere. Putting these words to practice did help me to do better work as a research biochemist and making new discoveries.

Suddenly arose a spark within that spread around me
    a flame of peace that passes all understanding—

Whitman: "Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and joy
and knowledge that pass all the art and argument of the earth;"
These words remind me of Plato's Seventh Letter (360 B.C.) on philosophical illumination: "suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself." The phrase "peace that passes all understanding" is from Philippians IV.7 referring to "peace of God" which may be experienced through Christ, Buddha, Lao Tzu, or in Nature and Art.

And I know the twenty amino acids to be my elfin friends,
And I can discern the language of life and predict protein
    structures at a glance without computer calculations;

Whitman: "And I know that the hand of God is the elderhand of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the eldest brother of my own,"
I do not know the hand of God or the spirit of God as intimately as Whitman. However when Whitman proclaims his eldest brother to be the spirit of God, I can only relate to my own experience as a biochemist that our eldest brothers and sisters or perhaps eldest father and mother are the 20 amino acids. These are the organic molecules which God or Nature fished out of that primordial soup to be the building blocks of proteins, the essence to all plant and animal life. When I realized that this language of life is our oldest language and also a living language, I began to decipher it like Champollion with the Rosetta Stone. Not knowing computer programming, I devised a simple method of six rules looking for amino acids that are α-helix and β-sheet makers or breakers in tetrapeptides along the protein sequence in predicting its structure.

And I felt the joy of Galileo, first to see the moons of Jupiter,
Whitman in lines 85-89 recites a litany of his oneness with humanity, animals, plants, and stones. Here I describe my greatest joy as a scientist in making a first discovery in biochemistry. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) has been called the "Father of Modern Science" because of his adherence to the scientific method of observations instead of blind allegiance to authority. With refined telescopes, Galileo was the first to observe lunar mountains and craters, the phases of Venus, and the four moons of Jupiter. As a Cornell graduate student, I admired Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein. I poured through their books and journals looking for clues on the origin of their creativity. I realized many of them had the childlike wonder which I'd lost during the education process. As a postdoc in biochemistry at Brandeis University, after determining experimentally the helical potential of Leucine from copolymers, I derived the conformational potentials of 20 amino acids from the known X-ray structures of 15 proteins (1973). Being the first in the world to see this table of amino acids and their α-helix and β-sheet potentials in hierarchical order, I had the key to protein structural prediction. It was a most joyous moment as a scientist, the feeling of exhiliaration that Galileo must have felt in his discoveries. "Prediction of Protein Conformation" was published in Biochemistry, Volume 13, 222-245 (1974). In two international prediction contests, this simple method did better than most computer methods. When Current Contents had a list of "Citation Classics" with papers by Einstein and Bohr, I couldn't believe that my paper was ranking up there with science heroes I'd worshipped since my youth. Science Citation Index (1987) indicates that this paper has been cited in over 1160 publications, making it the most-cited paper for this journal.

And thanked Richard Bucke's Cosmic Consciousness
    following the steps of Dante, Goethe, Buddha,
    Plato, and Plotinus for their unitary vision—

Bucke's Cosmic Consciousness has chapters on Dante, Buddha, Socrates, Plotinus, and Whitman as having experienced this cosmic sense. I'm also including Plato and Goethe because they have also experienced that higher dimension of Consciousness. So I thank them all for their guidance and inspiring my work.

"O wonderful, wonderful, and yet again most wonderful!"
These lines are from Shakespeare's As You Like It III.2.68:
"O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful!
and yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all whooping!"
It describes my feeling of ecstasy when I discovered a simple way to predict protein structure without recourse to computer calculations. I jumped up as high as I could and touched the low ceiling in my biochemistry lab at Brandeis University when I was alone that night (1973).

Are you afraid to merge into Oneness?
Undress your ego... embrace the Self!
Break your room space... experience All-Space!
The real you is tireless, timeless, limitless...
    and can never be shaken or taken away.

Whitman: "Who need be afraid of the merge? (136)
Undrape... you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded, (137)
And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless... and can never be shaken away." (139)
When I began my spiritual quest (1967), I was afraid to merge into Oneness, because I might lose my individuality and blend with everyone's consciousness. Then I'd love strangers as much as my parents, siblings, and friends. Life without distinctions may not be that fascinating when I attain this universal harmony with all. Then I recalled reading about a harmonious dish when cooked by a great chef, how it brings out the tangiest flavor in the diverse ingredients of sweet & sour, with the right amount of spices and sauce to enhance our taste buds. So I imagined spiritual enlightenment as comparable to a fine dining experience in the hands of a seasoned chef. The sages whom I met were more interesting, insightful, and inspirational than most people that I know. So I plunged ahead in undressing my ego (outer facade) to embrace the Self (inner Reality). Since the Self is imperturbable, it cannot be shaken, and because the Self is your true essence and not something added or gained, it cannot be taken away. When this poem was critiqued in Mark Doty's Stanford Workshop (Feb. 4, 2009), some students felt "merge into Oneness" was too abstract. It occurred to me later that we experience Oneness (no duality or multiplicity) every night when we're in deep sleep. So if you're not afraid of going to sleep, there's no fear to merge into Oneness.

What are we anyhow? What am I? And what are you?
Whitman: "What is a man anyhow? What am I? and what are you?" (390)
The Hindu sage Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) gave the mantra "Who am I?" to students seeking enlightenment. Paul Brunton introduced Ramana to the West in his book A Search in Secret India (1934) and also experienced enlightenment in Ramana's ashram. However in Brunton's Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga (1941), he suggested "What am I?" as a better query since "Who" still connotates the ego, while "What" is more scientific and impersonal and a more fitting description of the Higher Self.

"Shall I pray?" the disciple asked the master who was ill.
Confucius said "My praying has been for a long time."

Whitman: "Shall I pray? Shall I venerate and be ceremonious?" (398)
This line sounds Confucian! From Confucian Analects, Lun Yu, VII.35: The Master being seriously ill, Tzu-lu asked leave to pray for him. The Master said "May such a thing be done?" Tzu-lu said, "It may. Prayer has been made for thee to the spirits of the upper and lower worlds." The Master said, "My praying has been for a long time."
From Lun Yu, III.17: Tzu-kung wanted to do away with the sacrificial sheep at the announcement of the new moon. The Master said, "Ts'ze, you love the sheep; I love the ceremony." Whitman probably read Analects of Confucius, especially VII.35 & III.17 when he wrote line 398 about prayer and venerating ceremony.

And I know I am deathless, birthless, timeless—
    this orbit of mine beyond compass and chart,
    sailing the sea of essence into the wild night.

Whitman: "And I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter's compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child's carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night."
Arjuna learns from Krishna in Bhagavad Gita II.20: "The soul is birthless, eternal, imperishable, and timeless, and does not die when the body dies."
"Orbit of mine beyond compass and chart" alludes to Emily Dickinson's Poem #249: "Wild Nights— Wild Nights!... / Futile— the Winds— / To a Heart in port— / Done with the Compass— / Done with the Chart! / Rowing in Eden— / Ah, the Sea! / Might I but moor— Tonight— / In Thee!" The "sea of essence" refers to water which is birthless, deathless, timeless, a metaphor for the soul that is eternal. The "wave of form" is metaphoric for the body that is temporal. Thus the waves in the sea are born, grow, decay, and die. While the Winds can create turbulent waves, they are futile to water. That's why Emily can sail without compass or chart (map) to Eden and moor in the Sea of Eternity during her Wild Nights!

Ah! the libraries where I spend my happiest hours finding the windows to wisdom.
I've spent most of my life in libraries when not in research labs. One such happy moment was finding Wei Wu Wei's Open Secret (1965) in the Cornell Library stacks (1968). When I opened this slim volume to the copyright page, facing it was this Inscription: "A single word is sufficient to reveal the truth" — Shên Hui
In case such a word be lurking somewhere herein...
Closing my eyes, I opened the book at random and was shocked beyond belief. I've recounted the story of that adventure in Wei Wu Wei: Open Secret when another eureka moment came at the Stanford Library (2008). So libraries are my treasure trouves always opening windows to wisdom. In his book Cosmic Consciousness (1901), Richard Bucke gives this account of Walt Whitman: "If he sat in the library an hour, he would have half a dozen to a dozen volumes about him, on the table, on chairs and on the floor. He seemed to read a few pages here and a few pages there, and pass from place to place, from volume to volume, doubtless pursuing some clue or thread of his own. Sometimes (though very seldom) he would get sufficiently interested in a volume to read it all... In his way of reading he dipped into histories, essays, metaphysical, religious and scientific treatises, novels and poetry— though I think he read less poetry than anything else." (pp. 210-220)

Here cavern of minds past and present commune with me.
The spirits of my favorite writers have guided me to find
quotes in their books without having read them.

I've not seen God face to face or heard angelic choirs singing. But the closest I've had akin to a mystical experience is identifying quotes from "Queries & Answers" from the New York Times Book Review. While I was a graduate student at Cornell (1963-1970), I'd go to the Olin Library to read the last page of New York Times Book Review. People would write to the Editor asking for the source of quotes they've heard or read and forgotten. If the quote inspires me, I'd wander around the stacks and come up with the answer within an hour. Thus I located Goethe's quote in a conversation with Falk, Chekov's quote on love in a short story, Einstein's quote on the mysterious in a journal before it appeared in his The World As I See It. I have some six letters published in New York Times Book Review identifying sources of quotes to the amazement of my scientific colleagues who wondered where did I find time to read so many books and remember those quotes. I didn't, but felt somehow the spirits are alive and spoke to me.

But equally I'm enchanted by Nature's grandeur—
Whitman: "A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more
    than the metaphysics of books."
Though I'm mostly a bookworm, I do agree with Whitman that the outdoors and nature is more pleasant than books. I designed a page on my web site to "Breathe in these sights..." and Nature Walks 2008 of my hikes and haikus in the Bay Area.

the gorges at Cornell with their babbling brooks,
the budding trilliums in spring on hikes at Windy Hill,
the wildbirds at Mount Shasta flying & feeding in my hand,

Whitman: Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset! Earth of the mountains misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!
Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river!
Whitman's panegyric to Earth (lines 439-446) with ten exclamations ending with "Smile for your lover comes!" was toned down to seven "!" points in Section 21 of his later editions. Here I recount my first enchantment with Nature at Cornell's campus with its natural gorges and lake. When I saw the trilliums on hikes at Windy Hill in Portola Valley, I revisited Mary Oliver's poem "Trilliums" and basked in its beauty. During my journal writing medicine walk at Mount Shasta (July 1989), I shared my lunch of raisins and nuts with two wildbirds (flycatchers) that flew to my hands for feeding.

and watching the most beautiful sunset at Lac Leman in Vevey
    with a sage by my side telling me that Jean-Jacques Rousseau
    sat at the very spot in the wilderness two hundred years ago.

Whitman: My sun has his sun, and round him obediently wheels," (1186)
During my meetings with Paul Brunton in Switzerland, a sage who lived the enlightened life, he would take me often on walks by Lake Leman in Montreux or Vevey. On Sept. 1, 1979, I watched a most beautiful sunset with Paul Brunton by the lakeside of Vevey. PB told me "That was no ordinary sunset— we sat at the same spot that Jean-Jacques Rousseau had meditated 200 years earlier." PB told me to read Rousseau's Peregrination of a Solitary Dreamer (1776) that Vevey was still a wilderness when Rousseau went on his walking excursions. I've quoted Rousseau in my web page on Enlightenment News.

I believe the lilies of the field are more beautiful
than all the glories of Solomon and in touching
a flower we move a distant star for we are all
connected by this web of jewels— the Net of Indra.

Whitman: "I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars," (662)
Christ was insightful in Matthew, VI.28-29: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." I recall Francis Crick's lecture at MIT in the 1970's telling the audience that the genome of a lily is ten times more complex than that of a human's. Afterwords, I told Crick that Christ's remark on the lily's array was indeed prophetic. He thanked me for this insight. The idea that a flower on earth is connected to a distant star is found in Francis Thompson (1859-1907): "One could not pluck a flower without troubling a star." John Muir (1838-1914): "When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." Cicero (106 BC-43 BC): "Everything is alive; everything is interconnected." One of the best image of this universal interconnection is from Indra's Net: "Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it, stretches out indefinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel at the net's every node, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a remarkable sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but also each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that the process of reflection is infinite."Avatamsaka Sutra (translated by Francis H. Cook, Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra, 1977)

I visit orchards of Space-Time and see the spherical universe,
And look at its fabric of quintillion quantum pixels,
And realize we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.

Whitman: "I visit the orchards of God and look at the spheric product,
And look at quintillions ripened, and look at quintillions green.
I heard what was said of the universe, (1017)
I know I have the best of time and space— and that I was never measured,
    and never will be measured."
The January 15, 2009 article "Our world may be a giant hologram" in New Scientist seems to echo Whitman lines above. "According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at Fermilab, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time— the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into 'grains', just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in... then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram... At this magnification, the fabric of space-time becomes grainy and is ultimately made of tiny units rather like pixels, but a hundred billion billion times smaller than a proton. This distance is known as the Planck length, a mere 10 meters. The Planck length is far beyond the reach of any conceivable experiment, so nobody dared dream that the grainness of space-time might be discernable... If space-time is a grainy hologram, then you can think of the universe as a sphere whose outer surface is papered in Planck length-sized squares, each containing one bit of information." The impossibility of measuring the Planck length echoes Whitman's line 1198: "I was never measured, and never will be measured." While Whitman's "spheric product" in "the orchards of God" (line 797) may refer to globular fruits, it may also refer to "the universe as a sphere"— a product of God's creation. The hundred billion billion figure cited is 100x109x109 = 100x1018. That's a hundred quintillions— the "quintillions" of Whitman's line 798! Somewhat remarkable that Whitman's 1855 poem to be visionary with insights fitting well with modern cosmological discoveries today, 153 years later.

It is time to explain the Self... let us sit still.
Strip away the known and launch into the unknown.
The clock shows the moment... but what is the face of eternity?

Whitman: "It is time to explain myself... let us stand up.
What is know I strip asay... I launch all men and women forward
    with me into the unknown.
the clock indicates the moment... but what does eternity indicate?"
Whitman is a champion of individuality, so to explain himself he stands up. But to explain the Self that is beyond our ego, we need to sit down, humble ourself, and dive into that inner realm of the unknown by meditation. "What is the face of eternity?" is akin to the Zen koan "What is your face before your parents were born?" Jesus knew the answer when he said "Before Abraham was, I am." (John VIII.58)

We have circled for trillions of winters and summers
And at last we have found the right address—
The Serpent cannot forget. Moses remembers this place.

Whitman: "We have thus far exhausted trillions of winters and summers;
There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them."
These lines reminded me of Tomas Tranströmer's poem "The Scattered Congregation" (1973) that concluded with "Nicodemus the sleepwalker is on his way / to the Address. Who's got the Address? / Don't know. But that's where we're going." The image of Nicodemus the sleepwalking rabbi in his last stanza is especially thought-provoking. Not knowing the Address, he's on his way willy-nilly going nowhere. Whitman has launched all men and women forward into the unknown (1134) and have exhausted trillions of years with trillions ahead (1138-1139). This image seems to be one of futility with no end in sight. While reading the Nicodemus story in my Bible, I noticed "Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" occurs at John 3.14— the symbol for π = 3.14, a transcendental number. I looked up Genesis 3.14 and found God punishing the serpent to crawl on its belly. So when Moses lifted up the serpent, he performed a transformation from the horizontal flow of time to the vertical ascent to eternity— "Son of man be lifted up" (Christ on the Cross). The Serpent cannot forget 3.14 for that's the spot in Genesis where it got punished. Moses must remember this place because in Exodus 3.14: "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM."

Now here I stand on this spot with my soul.
Whitman: "Now I stand on this spot with my soul." (1168)
I've added "here" to Whitman's line 1168 because "Here I stand" ("Hier stehe ich") was the proclamation of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms (1521) that ushered in the Protestant Reformation. I've invoked this expression to mark my stance that this π spot "3.14", the transcendental number which defines the circle, is the home of eternity where I rest my soul. (See poem "What Is the Address?" and Notes)

Let my soul contemplate on the Great Soul—
    freed from doubt and deceit and collected into calm.
Calm be the body and mind, and even heaven itself be still.
Then feel how into that silence the Great Soul flows through.

Whitman: "I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's-self is,"
Plotinus, Enneads V.1.2 (250 A.D.): "So let the soul that is not unworthy of the vision contemplate the Great Soul: freed from deceit and every witchery and collected into calm. Calmed be the body for it in that hour and the tumult of the flesh, all that is about it calm; calm be the earth, the sea, the air, and let heaven itself be still. Then let it feel how into that silent heaven the Great Soul floweth in!" (The Essence of Plotinus based on the translation by Stephen Mackenna, compiled by Grace H. Turnbull, Oxford University Press, 1948, p. 155). Like St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) who borrowed much from Plotinus (Turnbull, op. cit., pp. 249-252), I'm doing so here in this stanza. Whitman has contemplated on the "Great Soul" (lines 1262-1264) and his Song of Myself is the Great Soul flowing through.

If then it is the Soul that brings us beauty,
    how can we run after other trivial things?
You honor the Soul elsewhere, honor then yourself.

Whitman: "I hear and behold God in every object,
    yet I understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself."
Plotinus, Enneads V.1.2: "If, then, it is the presence of soul that brings worth, how can a man slight himself and run after other things? You honour the Soul elsewhere; honour then yourself." (translated by Stephen Mackenna, 4th Ed., Faber & Faber, 1969, p. 371)
Whitman sees and hears God everywhere because he has honored himself, and in doing so, he see nothing more wonderful, and experienced the Cosmic Self. This is the realization of the Hindu rishis when they proclaimed "Atman is Brahman."— This individual soul is that Universal Soul! and "Tat Tvam Asi"— Thou Art That.

The Self is ever-present, not light nor darkness,
    never born and never dies, not to be defined or explained.
The rishis say the Self resides in the heart of all beings—
    smaller than the atom, greater than the vast universe.

Whitman: "And I know I am deathless,
I exist as I am, that is enough.
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content."
(406, 413-415)
Shankara (686-718), Atma Bodha 65: "Though Atman is Pure Consciousness and ever present, yet It is perceived by the eye-of-wisdom alone: but one whose vision is obscured by ignorance he does not see It; as the blind do not see the resplendent Sun." Also Atma Bodha 56: "Realise that to be Brahman which is Existence-Knowledge-Bliss-Absolute, which is Non-dual, Infinite, Eternal and One and which fills all the quarters— above and below and all that exists between." (translated by Swami Chinmayananda, Chinmaya Publications, Madras, 1975, pp. 108, 122)
Katha Upanishad I.2.20: "Atman, smaller than the small, greater than the great, is hidden in the hearts of all living creatures."

Failing to see me at first, keep on trying—
Missing me there, search for me here—
As above, so below. Look within—
I go everywhere waiting for you.

Whitman: Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you."
Whitman ends Song of Myself with encouragement for his readers. If we fail to experience the cosmic vision, keep trying, keep searching. He is always waiting and will never abandon us. There is a spiritual saying for those pilgrims on the Path to Enlightenment: "When the student is ready, the Guru will appear." I've found this to be indeed true, and have added the line "As above, so below. Look within—"
from Hermes Trismegistus, Emerald Tablet (circa 6th century A.D.):
"True, true. Without doubt. Certain.
The below is as the above, and the above is the below,
    to perfect the wonders of the One.
And as all things came from the One, from contemplation of the One,
    so all things are born from this One by adaptation."

(Alexander Roob, Alchemy & Mysticism, Taschen, Köln, 1987, pp. 8-9)
I've changed Whitman's "I stop some where" to "I go everywhere" in the last line of my poem as I see the Great Spirit to be never stagnant and ever moving. It is everywhere so we need not even move anywhere to find it since It is us! I had a small satori when I realized that the name of the enlightened sage Plotinus is an anagram for "Plot in us"— the "story in us" is the Great Soul that poets have been singing all along. Whitman did this in "Song of Myself" and I've tried while writing "Song of the Self".

                                                                            — Peter Y. Chou
                                                                                 Mountain View, 2-4-2009

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
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