Walt Whitman: the Multitude in the One

Walt Whitman Contradiction
Walt Whitman quote from a Gemini

Walt Whitman embraced the common working man through friendships and placed direct experience of the everyday world into poetry, elevating it beyond the ordinary. He used the word ‘I’ with an imperiousness that made it trans-personal – an all seeing, all feeling ‘I’ that ranges from tiny details of wren’s eggs to the broadest expanses of inclusion of all the United States. He transformed how poetry was written by opening up all the closed doors of topic, and cracking open the straight-jacket of traditional stanzas, and restrictions of metre. This freer style was more akin to the 20th century, and inspired the force of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ (1955). It did not rhyme, but it was influenced by the sonorous prose from the King James bible, using parallel phrases and repetition to create its effects as in the lines:

“I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine..”

 

Postage Stamp Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman postage stamp (1940)

More than anything, he was a real master of words, the province of Mercury ruler of Gemini.  Born May 31st, 1819 and with more of a tradesman’s education, self-made and adept at self-promotion. He made the words talk on the page with sensory qualities offering also the oral satisfaction when read aloud, each word savoured in the mouth. Above and beyond the words is the strong voice, a powerful sound and sinuous line that he absorbed from Bel Canto Opera style, spoken and sung. So he became known as the voice of the United States, probably with the strong projection from Mars in Aries in the first. At least he articulated better than anyone the diversity that was American dream in its expansive phase. He was also deemed  America’s first urban poet as he celebrated the cities, piers, streets, docks, buses and trains and the jostling of races, the multiplicity of races and ethnicities. Wherever he walked he carried a notebook and pencil – all very Mercurial. Mercury is in Taurus, the earth sign, in the first and he wrote directly and eloquently of the physicality of the body which is ‘electric’, and of down to earth people going about their business. He was also an advocate of naturism; being without clothes, of sunbathing and swimming naked as a health-giving activity.

It fits also for someone with strong Mercurial traits that he trained as a printer doing typesetting, writing and editing, which requires manual dexterity and accuracy of the eye and hand; he was skilled as a journalist and publisher of newspapers and magazines. His Mercury in is square to a lone Jupiter in Aquarius in the 11th, so he espoused views that were ultra-progressive for his era, and this lost him jobs and created enemies. He said he was the “poet of slaves and the masters of slaves and I am the poet of the body and the poet of the soul.” He also maintained that poets were more important as the true ‘referees’ of ideas than presidents- quite a radical idea- which aligns with that of Shelly who said that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (1840).  But it also meant he imbued the human body with democratic values – as everyone has one and the body is a leveller. Whitman believed that people would read ‘Leaves of Grass’ (1855) and be healed if they went out into nature and tuned in to its embrace of the one within the whole, the whole within the one. Another hint of Mercury square Jupiter would be that his did not sell so Whitman wrote his own inflated and hyperbolic reviews.

David Hockney
David Hockney: We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961)

Whitman talked of freedom of expression that goes beyond sex, race and nationalism.  According to Allen Ginsberg, (another Gemini) he espoused the love of men which Whitman called ‘adhesiveness.’ As in the line ‘we two boys together clinging’ words from ‘Leaves that were written in to David Hockney’s 1961 painting.  Whitman celebrated the love of all types of people: women, blacks, whites, Asians, even the most ordinary. He was big-hearted, open, full of candour, spontaneous, flowing, and reading his words can create a sense of freedom in the mind and a breadth of vision that included new ideologies with that Jupiter in Aquarius. This became representative of the American way, at least the myth of that. He even dared to write of sexual experiences in a very physical, direct and unabashed way. He opened up space in the lines so he could write freely whatever the thought and however the thought needed to be able to have its say. He also believed that the naked body is sacred and, again focusing on the physical with the poet’s words,  he said “Who touches this book, touches the man”. Many were outraged to read the following words of a romp in the grass:

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman

“I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.

Loaf with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.

I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips, and gently turned over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stripped heart,
And reached till you felt my beard, and reached till you held my feet.”

 

The Calamus section of ‘Leaves’ also garnered attention for its embrace of male love. It says: ‘a crowd of workmen around the stove, a youth who loves me and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand.’  These are the favourite lines of poet Allen Ginsberg who adopted the style of ‘Leaves’ for his long poem ‘Howl’ (1955). It was as if in’ Leaves of Grass’ Whitman was speaking directly again to the youth of America mid-20th Century, exactly as he had imagined that he would.

 

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman

Whitman set about tending to the wounded in the Civil War which had a huge impact on him and his poetry.  After going to Virginia to find his brother George he became a hospital volunteer and saw how surgery was done without antiseptic as it was not known then.  He helped dying soldiers to write letters home. His Chiron is here more the healer of the wounded than wounded healer.  But it takes one to know one. His Chiron is conjunct Pluto and Saturn in the 12th house, in Pisces. This is the end of the end of all placements, and with these two heavyweights vying for power here,  it could have meant that he had to face multiple inner demons. Melanie Reinhart (1989) says of this position that Pluto would allow people to see the hidden and allow someone to go beyond the personal even in sexual relationships, a theme he expressed in his poetry. Also, she said it impels the native to be drawn to situations of danger and invoke “the love of intense experience.” In 1862, during the Civil war, he felt the need to leave New York  to find his brother, but he stayed in the war zones tending to the wounded, overcome by compassion to be able to give all the soldiers and youths, black and white, their last kiss, as if mothering them, showing an affection they had probably never received from anyone else in their lives. Most of them were dying so these kisses were a last moment of grace that life bestowed and Whitman more than anyone would have been conscious of that fact.

His Saturn conjunct Chiron on the other hand might have conferred upon him a natural sense of

Walt Whitman Chart
Walt Whitman natal chart

authority that comes from having a weak father which he did, and to give a striking appearance of “the dignity of someone who has faced the dark depths of the soul.”  Images of him at the time show he looked like the notion of the old testament god, with long beard and he probably struck a Saturnian tone- he even had images of Satyrs pinned to his ceiling. But this lent him that natural look of someone who had been through it all.  His Saturn is at 29 degrees of Pisces- the very last degree of the entire zodiac cycle, so an expression of accumulated knowledge. He may very well  have been designed to teach us something important about spirituality. All this healing energy though may have cost him a lot in painful experiences where a struggle took place inside him as the entire sign of Pisces is intercepted in the 12th– the hidden within the hidden- and especially in its own house. This means that the sign of Virgo is also trapped in the sixth, perhaps the compassionate healer in him was an archetype may not have emerged if not for the war. Those dark days helped the hidden sides to emerge despite the difficulties.

A buzz in the news arose when Whitman met the young Oscar Wilde (Libra) in Camden, New Jersey, in 1882, and Whitman said that afternoon and they had an enchanting discussion- I wonder which one managed to get a word in edgewise as both could out-persuade the other.  Whitman was the ‘American rough’ and Wilde was in aesthete’s dress, claiming only genius, but they had a non-stop elderberry wine-fuelled conversation that may have lead to more intimate phase– at the very least Oscar put his hand on Walt’s knee and Whitman was struck by Wilde’s youthful and manly demeanour.

Art by Margaret Cook
Leaves of Grass rare cover, by Margaret C.Cook (1913)

For a poet Whitman had a sure stream of inspiration that was robust, confident and challenging to stuffy old ways of thinking. With a grand fire trine of the Moon in Leo the 6th, Neptune/Uranus in Sagittarius in the 9th, and Mars in Aries in the first, provided he worked hard at it -which he did- he channeled a powerful stirring voice that sang ‘the body electric’ and still speaks to us today. 2019 is the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth, yet there is no fanfare or mass celebration, unless you go to Moscow perhaps, where a statue of Whitman was unveiled by Hilary Clinton in 2009.

When he died his last words were said to be ‘let me be wafted noiselessly forth, unlock the locks oh soul,” so he embodied the role of the great poet to the last and was as Mercury would have it, uttering words in his last breath.

 

© Proteus Astrology, May 2019

 

 

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Kieron Devlin

London-based and trained PROTEUS astrologer:
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