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The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most
to him, The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him, The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him, The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him—
it cannot fail. Nothing fails of its perfect return. We cannot escape ourselves. Reward and punishment are not meted out by an overruling external power; they inhere in the act itself, and it rests with the individual freely to choose. “We are beautiful or sinful in ourselves only.” This law of natural compensation operates inexorably, but it should not determine the motives of conduct. Constructively, Whitman's morality is the morality of health and affirmation. There is in it no element of fear. He believes in the fullest self-expression, not with reference to punishment or reward, but for its own sake. The standard of action is not conformity to an external code, but inner rightness. The individual is to act in freedom. Freedom may be won in its inception by opposition to the lesser law, but the highest freedom is harmony with the highest law, the universal. It must be confessed that this morality is not for little men. It appeals to the best, not the worst, in man, and it presupposes the loftiest ideal. That it winnows the unfit along the way and leaves them struggling, is not Whitman's fault but theirs. His teaching is meant to be inclusive ; and it is universal
; enough in its scope and application to admit of many interpretations, — like the laws of Nature. But like the laws of Nature, when ignorantly or willfully misunderstood, it carries with it its own retribution. That Whitman's declaration of independence may be perverted to excuse license is no arraignment of its righteousness and justice. It reverts to the individual himself and is the measure of his own morality. The watchwords of Whitman's ethics are Ensemble, Evolution, Freedom, set in the sky of Law.
Throughout, Whitman's ideal of achievement is spiritual manhood. The purport of life and its fruition are of the soul. The material and the physical are redeemed by his conquering spirituality; the human is glorious because it incarnates the divine. Earth takes its meaning as we discern in it Forms, objects, growths, humanities, to spiritual images
ripening. To his rapt vision the seen is the prophecy of the unseen. With this faith, glorying in the present goodness of earth and secure in the promise of the future, he confronts all problems. Whitman trusts the soul, and he is willing to await development through æons, for he knows “the amplitude of time.” God is: and results are in His hands.
The culminating impression of Whitman's personality is the sense that here is a man who, in spite of his unconventional manner and strange fashion of life, does finally and intimately understand me. One feels that this man knows what life is: he has been all the way round it, he has walked its deep places, he has mounted its heights; somehow, at some point, he has entered into my particular experience. His manysided contact with men and things has been rich and fruitful for himself; but the results are not for himself alone. He has suffered in my sorrows and known my grief. The joy that he had of life, — The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all
hours of the day, The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and
hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
be my joy too, my sustenance and my glories. And in my joy his own finds intensification and its crown.
Whatever our mood, whatever our need, we can turn to Whitman and meet response. His understanding is complete, his sympathy universal. We can do nothing and be nothing, but he will enfold us. He
knows our faults and our weaknesses, and
accepts them. He has the same in himself.
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
malignant, The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me, The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous
wish, not wanting, Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none
of these wanting. So he understands with an understanding born of experience; he reaches us with a sympathy born of love. The magnetism which Whitman effused in life still radiates from the personality that is vital in his
poems. Out of the past a voice speaks which is as a presence with us at the instant and a secure possession for the future. When you read these I that was visible am become
invisible, Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems, seeking me,