Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements
Whitman often used old or archaic words to make it new. Here he deploys a Latin term for poetic inspiration. The noun afflatus derives from the Latin word meaning “to blow upon.” Cicero wrote in On Divination (44 B.C.E.) that “no man was ever great without a touch of divine afflatus.” Joseph Priestley claimed in Natural and Revealed Religion (1782) that “Orpheus said ancient poets wrote by a divine afflatus.” The word presupposes a creative power—a divine breath—entering the writer. It names the nonrational aspect of poetic inspiration, which means “in-breathing,” a mysterious force beyond the poet’s conscious control.