Recently, we have been tasked with reading Whitman’s “Song of Myself” in conjunction with Thoreau’s “Walking” and Bello’s “Ode to Tropical Agriculture” in order to partially digest different ideas and partially to find comparisons between their writings. With that said, I would like to start with analyzing Whitman’s view of nature and civilization. I feel as though Whitman has similar thoughts on both of those subjects. He is able to appreciate humankind in a humanitarian way, treating everyone that comes into contact with him with open arms and fairness. This can especially be seen when he talks about taking and tending to a runaway slave as well as refusing to hold any ill will towards a town whore. These feelings and other emotions felt by him towards people can be summed up with this quote: “All the men ever born are also my brothers… and the women are sisters and lovers” (Whitman 4). Similarly to this, he is able to appreciate nature. While talking of ducks and birds that he startles as he walks through the wilderness, he states, “They rise together, they slowly circle around… I believe in those winged purposes” (Whitman 10). What’s even more interesting is that with this huge amount of amazement, he still feels as though nature is an enigma.
Whitman finds through his own introspection that we, as humans, cannot ever come to understand the wild. For instance, when questioned about the purpose and existence of grass by a child, Whitman thinks, “I do not know what it is any more than he” (Whitman 5), yet he still is able to hold an appreciation for nature. This is where he differs from Bello who states that people don’t appreciate the wilderness nearly as much as its animal dwellers do. He also makes the point of how big business want to exploit nature, yet he believes that the cultivation of farmland is necessary for growth.
Despite these minor initial comparisons, all authors tend to believe in one principle: We come to understand the environment better by interacting with it. Whether it’s through taking a walk, cultivation, or just appreciation, we begin to form our own feelings and meanings on what the environment means to us by experiencing it. However, another interesting point is that these three authors get this point across in their writings in completely different ways. Whitman mainly preaches it through simple observation. He believes that by making initial opinions and delving into your curiosity, you can step out into the world easier. An example of this would be when he observes a Native American wedding and talks about the different traditions that he witnessed. Similarly, Thoreau believes that observations of nature provide insights into one’s soul. This is shown when he talks about how walking helps people to discover their inner self, going so far as to state, “They [villagers] are wayworn by the travel that goes by and over them, without traveling themselves” (Thoreau 8). Lastly is Bello. He does not necessarily mention having direct experiences, but more about yearning for new experiences. He discourages people from living easy lives shrouded in ignorance about the environment and encourages them to seek out the life of a farmer, since part of that lifestyle would help most people to better themselves by being able to walk in someone else’s shoes. I think the main thing that we should keep in mind when discussing and comparing these readings is that there are many lessons to learn and digest about environmentalism and that it’s always best to keep an open mind.