Interviewer: Good evening, everyone. Tonight we have the unique privilege of having Walt Whitman himself sit down with us for a candid interview on his marvelous new poem, “I Sing the Body Electric“. Let’s skip over the usual preliminaries and get right into the interview. Walt, it a real pleasure to have you here tonight. We want to talk about your poem. I’m sure it’s going to become an American classic.
Whitman: Thank you very much. It’s so kind of you to say that.
Interviewer: So, Walt, how did you happen to write this poem?
Whitman: The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them; they will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them.
Interviewer: Your poem seems to exhibit what is now called a very “body-positive” attitude. Would you agree with that?
Whitman: The body itself balks account; that of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.
Interviewer: Is there any particular way you enjoy seeing a person’s body?
Whitman: The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up, and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water.
Interviewer: What do you think it is that draws you to be such an avid observer of people?
Whitman: There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well; All things please the soul—but these please the soul well.
Interviewer: Let’s get into that a little deeper – men and women. Do you see them differently in any ways?
Whitman: This is the female form; a divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot; it attracts with fierce undeniable attraction!
Interviewer: Keep going. What specifically is the reason you feel this attraction for the female form?
Whitman: Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it—the response likewise ungovernable; hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands, all diffused—mine too diffused; ebb stung by the flow, and flow stung by the ebb—love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching; limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice.
Interviewer: We live in a society that’s not accustomed to such honesty about the details. Do you think women are somewhat embarrassed by such frankness?
Whitman: Be not ashamed, women—your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest; you are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.
Interviewer: How about men? Are you suggesting they are less interesting than women?
Whitman: The male is not less the soul, nor more—he too is in his place; he too is all qualities—he is action and power.
Interviewer: So the bodies of men and women are roughly equal in your eyes?
Whitman: The man’s body is sacred, and the woman’s body is sacred; no matter who it is, it is sacred.
Interviewer: I gather, then, you hope others may regard human bodies pretty much the way you do.
Whitman: Examine these limbs, red, black, or white—they are so cunning in tendon and nerve; they shall be stript, that you may see them.
Interviewer: Clearly you hold human bodies in very high regard.
Whitman: If any thing is sacred, the human body is sacred, and the glory and sweet of a man, is the token of manhood untainted; and in man or woman, a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is beautiful as the most beautiful face.
Interviewer: Are there specific parts of the body you want to mention?
Whitman: Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root; strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above, leg-fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under leg, ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel; all attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body, or of any one’s body, male or female…
Interviewer: Specific things about a woman’s body?
Whitman: The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings.
Interviewer: We’re getting to end of our time, unfortunately. So let’s jump straight to some philosophical issues. You’ve talked a lot about the physical body. Do you think there’s anything nonphysical about a body, such as a soul? Your poem mentions it a lot.
Whitman: And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
Interviewer: Well, you mentioned a lot of parts of the body. Are they all parts of the soul too?
Whitman: O I say, these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul.
Interviewer: But is there anything more to the soul than these parts?
Whitman: O I say now these are the soul!
Interviewer: Thank you very, very much Walt. It’s been a real honor for you to have this discussion with us. I look forward to having you back here very soon.
Whitman: Thank you, too. It’s been a great pleasure for me as well.