Mutlu Konuk Blasing: On "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"
In "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" Whitman is in full possession of this new key—this basic fact and the "delicious word," "the word final, superior to all" (LG, 252)—that unlocks another vast similitude. The shared experience of love and loss links all creation together and empowers the emerging poet to tally birdsong, his own troubling emotions, and the vast background of nature and authorizes him to "translate" them in personifications and narratives. Whitman's new key gives him access to a broader range of rhetorical and literary devices while enabling him to maintain his anagogic conception of poetic language. Without the narrative that frames the "reminiscence" of the poem, the poet could not work back to the key word, the word that unlocked nature and natural similitudes for him. Without possessing the key word that authorizes his language, however, he could not frame his narrative, for the very narrative—its temporal "syntax"—is made possible by the knowledge of loss. The structure of the story and its purport—that all true stories end in death—are mutually empowering forces that make the poem's equilibrium.
Moreover, the key is now also a "clef"—a variant Whitman sometimes uses, as in "On the Beach at Night Alone"—for it sets the key for song. Poetic music, too, superimposes a "struck" identity and an identity at base, the language of the poet-child and the base rhythm of the mother-sea, the "aria" of individual loss and the backdrop of "the undertone, the savage old mother incessantly crying" (LG, 251 ). The poet can join a community of loss and adequately translate the bird's loss into words only if he can also translate his words into nature. For poetic meaning and music are empowered by the very force that would negate them. Whitman's language counterpoints the two isomorphic poetries: the "aria"—ordered, "crafted"—and the "dirge" of the sea, which echoes the base rhythm of Whitman's cadences, the cosmic music of loss inscribed in poetic language. And the "death" of this rhythm eternally counterpoints the "loved" of articulation, whether in communal, narrative, or grammatical "adhesions."
"Death, death, death, death, death" is thus the key line in the poem; it superimposes not only a word and a fact but a meaningful phoneme and a meaningless sound. Its superscription marks the limits of language, for language is reduced to nature here, as when a word repeated too many times loses its meaning and becomes mere sound. Conversely, the line marks the limits of nature, for death is reduced to a mere word repeated in a basic five-stress line of poetry. Here, the epistemological boundary of language and the physical bounds of nature coincide. The irreducible, tautological reality and the impenetrable phoneme are one: "death" is death, sound is meaning, form is content. Against the backdrop of this maternal, synchronic identity play the "struck" identities or "adhesive" forces of similitude and metaphor, love and syntax, memory and narrative, loss and song. "Death," the "word up from the waves" (LG, 253), is the only word nature speaks in the poem, for all other words are presented as tallied. And "death" authorizes the poem's narrative and rhetoric, for it is the word that links language to nature; it is the omphalos of language. The word of transubstantiation, "death" is "sweet" and "delicious"; it plays on the tongue and is the bread and the wine that inspire the breath of poetry.
|Title||Mutlu Konuk Blasing: On "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"||Type of Content||Criticism|
|Criticism Author||Mutlu Konuk Blasing||Criticism Target||Walt Whitman|
|Criticism Type||Poet||Originally Posted||18 May 2020|
|Publication Status||Excerpted Criticism||Publication||American Poetry: The Rhetoric of Its Forms|
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