I CELEBRATE myself,When as a younger man I first read this bold opening, I knew the poem as "Song of Myself." This title is not found here; it would be a later addition. But here in our fresh reading of a fresh poet newly reaching out, the audacious three lines have the poet yanking the reader into Whitman's way of seeing. In what you read, Whitman seems to say, you will understand as I do and you will therefore recognize your own understanding too.
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I hope I can convey how outrageous Whitman truly is in this opening. He gives the reader not just words or ideas to ponder but rather claims that the reader will become connected or re-connected to an overarching good that joins poet and reader alike. Whitman thus gives both a new way of seeing and a new metaphysics supporting the vision. It's heady stuff, stated with simplicity and poise.
I can hardly fathom the line "what I assume you shall assume" because of the strange verb "to assume." The verbs seems to have both the intellectual sense--as in taking something to be true--and the active sense--as in taking control of or adopting. Poet and reader get locked into a shared sight and a shared mind. I wonder if perhaps Whitman's intent is to teach the reader about self-celebration and self-realization, to show them the American-ness of their sight and their being. Whitman's song is our song, one of the person, the individual, and the American.
Over the course of the page, Whitman's words then begin to weave a reverie. First it seems we are by a house, standing and leaning casually, and watching the grass in the summer--yet it's a single blade of grass. The individuality of it is striking. Whitman really is concerned with atoms, with the atom level.
Whitman contrasts the perfumed air of the house with the odorless atmosphere. By this quick, impassioned contrast, Whitman declares allegiance to natural, to himself as a natural being with a nature to be explored and appreciated.
We conclude the page with health and song. This is an awakening.