Of the terrible doubt of appearances – Walt Whitman

Of the terrible doubt of appearances

Of the terrible doubt of appearances,
Of the uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded,
That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations after all,
That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable
only,
May-be the things I perceive, the animals, plants, men, hills,
shining and flowing waters,
The skies of day and night, colors, densities, forms, may-be
these are (as doubtless they are) only apparitions, and
the real something has yet to be known,
(How often they dart out of themselves as if to confound me
and mock me!
How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows,
aught of them,)
May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they
indeed but seem) as from my present point of view, and
might prove (as of course they would) nought of what
they appear, or nought anyhow, from entirely changed
points of view;
To me these and the like of these are curiously answer’d by
my lovers, my dear friends,
When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long while
holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that words and
reason hold not, surround us and pervade us,
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom, I am
silent, I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances or that of
identity beyond the grave,
But I walk or sit indifferent, I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

Well trying to understand life and the way we perceive reality is the issue and do we really know anything at all. Of course we are discovering new things all the time – for example the weather forecast is now increasingly more reliable with updates on my mobile every three hours. And we all know that the more we know the more we don’t know. Still by knowing more life can be more enjoyable – we need only consider the medical advances that are keeping us alive much longer.

Looking at the somewhat convoluted text –

May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they
indeed but seem) as from my present point of view, and
might prove (as of course they would) nought of what
they appear, or nought anyhow, from entirely changed
points of view

– maybe this way of expression is appropriate in the circumstances of trying to understand what is really going on and the way others perceive the same thing. Nothing is what it seems (milk often masquerades as cream). As we get older I think we are more accepting and more appreciative of the little things in life without that youthful struggle for answers and worrying about the way others look at life. Content perhaps to just ‘enjoy life’.

But what an extreme thought thinking that we are all living in some mystical dream world that could vanish without meaning! Poets are re-known for travelling the tangents and creating their own unique worlds.

Human connectivity is the saving grace –

To me these and the like of these are curiously answer’d by
my lovers, my dear friends,
When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long while
holding me by the hand

It brings the flighty down to Earth by providing comfort when the mind is exhausted by the unanswerable. And of course appropriate when we are depressed and the world is a hollow emptiness. Whether ‘the holding of hands’ is sufficient or completely satisfying is another matter. But this poem does highlight the importance of innate human connectivity.

Walt Whitman on Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Whitman

… and a quote from Walt Whitman – keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.

… apparently the above poem is a favourite of Stephen Fry when asked to identify his poem for the book of 100 poems that make grown men cry.

Your word in my ear ...

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