Whitman’s Olfactory Metaphors in Song of Myself
Keywords:Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, New decorums, Transcendentalism, olfactory metaphors, olfaction, smell
Whitman’s olfactory metaphors are key tropes in his poems but they have been neglected so far. Furthermore, Emerson’s reaction to them sheds light on the relation between the two men, and shows that we need to expand our research on them through the incorporation of various ‘olfactory perspectives.’ This essay is about olfactory reading of Song of Myself—reframing it through a lens of the sense of smell. It will show that Whitman’s exploration for new poetic diction and the semantic of Whitman’s materialization into a poet—both are correlated—necessitate frequent usages of olfactory metaphors. With the inclusion of various olfactory viewpoints, the essay shows that Whitman’s metaphors of this kind portray his transformation into a mythical poet and smooth out this transition. Through his ‘celebrations’—calling body odor the fragrance and enjoying it, coming into contact with the atmosphere, and calling breath ‘smoke’— Whitman metamorphoses into a mythical poet, while all these celebrations are effected by his verbal fiat through olfactory metaphors, which finally enables him to communicate with ‘a spirit,’ which spreads his ‘barbaric yawp.’ All of these are fruition of Whitman’s ‘new decorums.’
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