Every Atom | No. 61

Kenneth Price

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

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What a marvelous poetic line! Here as elsewhere, Whitman unsettles our expectations. Some of the magic of this line stems from its non-poetic quality. It sounds conversational, especially in its opening exclamation. (Or is it an exhortation or a question?) Despite its straightforward language and seeming accessibility, it remains mysterious. Who, in fact, does go there: is this the biographical Whitman, a persona, or the reader? Neither the line nor the context clarifies the point. Carnality and earthiness are emphasized with the unapologetic “hankering,” yet all is leavened with “mystical.” With a single word Whitman reminds us of his oft-stated view that body and soul are inextricable—that they are entangled, mutually constitutive.  

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Kenneth M. Price, Hillegass University Professor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, has co-directed The Walt Whitman Archive since 1995. His next book, Whitman in Washington: Becoming the National Poet in the Federal City, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.


Cover art by Grayson Becker