Walt Whitman's Love Affair With You - Meditating on 'To You'

I love Walt Whitman for his personal and evocative poetry. He has written several poems where he directly addresses the reader and shows affection from this.  "To You" is one such poem.  Through this poem he celebrates the beauty any reader of his poem.  I find it beautiful that while it may seem he doesn't know the peculiarity of this reader, he connects with their soul.  He still professes his love even though he has not "met" them.  This is the kind of unconditional love of the creation and creator that Kabir talks about when he sings Tu Tu Karta Tu Hua (Saying you you I have become you). 

The poem begins by making the reader walk out of their dream. Guru Tegh Bahadur says, Sagal Jagat hai jaise supna: What is this life but a dream; it can be over in an instant. What we think are the realities of life, the mundane routines and distractions that often occupy our thoughts, are really temporary.  They only blur the lines between what is real and what is imagined. 

The person that Walt Whitman wants to love is the real person underneath.  As the reader reads through this poem he starts shedding his superficial trappings of everyday existence. Whitman notes that even the most defining aspects of our lives—the features we bear, the joys we experience, the houses we inhabit, the trades we pursue, the manners we adopt, the troubles we face, the follies we commit, and even the crimes we may be guilty of—dissipate when viewed through the lens of his poetic gaze. In doing so, Whitman uncovers the profound truth of Ekonkar — the true soul and body of the reader emerge not from the mundane affairs of life but from the core of their being, beyond the constructs of society.

I think Whitman's declaration that "now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem" is a pivotal moment in the poem. Here, he bestows upon the reader the highest honor, asking them to be the living embodiment of his art. He whispers to the reader, expressing his affection in intimate terms. He acknowledges the vastness of his love, claiming to have loved many individuals in his lifetime, but none as deeply and profoundly as the reader. 

As he realizes his love, his own past a bit. He feels that he has been "dilatory and dumb," wasting time and remaining silent when he should have been actively celebrating and championing the reader. He wishes that he had directed all his energy and creativity toward the reader sooner, forsaking all distractions and focusing solely on extolling their essence. This sense of urgency underscores the depth of Whitman's affection and his unwavering commitment to the reader.

In perhaps the most profound gesture of love, Whitman vows to "leave all and come and make the hymns of you." He promises to forsake everything else, leaving behind the mundane to craft hymns that capture the essence of the reader. What is this essence other than Satnam, Ekonkar? This act of dedication signifies the reader's uniqueness and the reverence with which Whitman holds them. In Whitman's eyes, the reader is not just a person; they are a source of inspiration and a reflection of the grandeur of the universe. 

My favorite lines in this poem are the following:

Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear,
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.
O I have been dilatory and dumb,
I should have made my way straight to you long ago, 
I should have blabb'd nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing but you.
I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you ...
By placing his hand upon the reader metaphorically, Whitman symbolically transfers his love and reverence onto them, urging them to be the living expression of his poetry. In this act, Whitman not only cherishes the reader's individuality but also envisions them as the ultimate muse, inspiring his poetic creations. This gesture represents a unique and intimate bond between poet and reader, where the reader becomes the vessel for Whitman's deepest emotions and the living testament to his poetic love. And from there on, he leaves everything else and makes "hymns of you."

This reminds me of Guru Arjan's immortal words: Rasna Japti Tuhi Tuhi -  my tongue chants, "Only you!" "Only you!"

To You by Walt Whitman
To You
Walt Whitman

Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands
Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners, troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,
Your true soul and body appear before me,
They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work, farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffering, dying.

Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear,
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.
O I have been dilatory and dumb,
I should have made my way straight to you long ago, 
I should have blabb'd nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing but you.

I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you,
None has understood you, but I understand you, 
None has done justice to you, you have not done justice to yourself
None but has found you imperfect, I only find no imperfection in you,
None but would subordinate you, I only am he who will never consent to subordinate you,
I only am he who places over you no master, owner, better, God, beyond what waits intrinsically in yourself.
Painters have painted their swarming groups and the centre-figure of all,
From the head of the centre-figure spreading a nimbus of gold-color'd light,
But I paint myriads of heads, but paint no head without its nimbus of gold-color'd light,
From my hand from the brain of every man and woman it streams, effulgently flowing forever.

O I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you!
You have not known what you are, you have slumber'd upon yourself all your life,
Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time,
What you have done returns already in mockeries, 
Your thrift, knowledge, prayers, if they do not return in mockeries, what is their return?)

The mockeries are not you,
Underneath them and within them I see you lurk,
I pursue you where none else has pursued you,
Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the accustom'd routine, if these conceal you from others or from yourself, they do not conceal you from me,
The shaved face, the unsteady eye, the impure complexion, if these balk others they do not balk me,
The pert apparel, the deform'd attitude, drunkenness, greed, premature death, all these I part aside

There is no endowment in man or woman that is not tallied in you,
There is no virtue, no beauty in man or woman, but as good is in you,
No pluck, no endurance in others, but as good is in you,
No pleasure waiting for others, but an equal pleasure waits for you.

As for me, I give nothing to any one except I give the like carefully to you,
I sing the songs of the glory of none, not God, sooner than I sing the songs of the glory of you.

Whoever you are! claim your own at any hazard! 
These shows of the East and West are tame compared to you, 
These immense meadows, these interminable rivers, you are immense and interminable as they,
These furies, elements, storms, motions of Nature, throes of apparent dissolution, you are he or she who is master or mistress over them,
Master or mistress in your own right over Nature, elements, pain, passion, dissolution.

The hopples fall from your ankles, you find an unfailing sufficiency,
Old or young, male or female, rude, low, rejected by the rest, whatever you are promulges itself,
Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided, nothing is scanted,
Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what you are picks its way.