The Varieties Of Religious Experience (Healthy Mindedness)

His favorite occupation seemed to be strolling or sauntering about outdoors by himself, looking at the grass, the trees, the flowers, the vistas of light, the varying aspects of the sky, and listening to the birds, the crickets, the tree frogs, and all the hundreds of natural sounds. It was evident these things gave him great pleasure far beyond what they give ordinary people.

All natural objects objects seemed to have a charm for him. All sights and sounds seemed to please him. He appeared to like all men, women, and children he saw, and each who knew him felt he liked him or her.

He did not argue or dispute, and he never spoke about money. He always justified those who spoke harshly about his writings. He would not allow his tongue to give expression to fretfulness, antipathy, or complaint. He never spoke deprecatingly of any nationality or class of men, or against any trades or occupations-not even against any animals, insects, or inanimate objects, nor any of the laws of nature, nor any of the results of those laws, such as illness, deformity, and death. He never complained or grumbled either at the weather, pain, illness, or anything else. He never swore. He could not very well, since he never spoke in anger and apparently never was angry. He never exhibited fear, and he apparently never felt fear.

Walt Whitman owes his importance in literature to the systematic expulsion from his writings of all contractile elements. The only sentiments he allowed himself to express were of the expansive order; and he expressed these in the first person, not as a conceited individual might express them, but vicariously, for all people, so that a passionate and mystic ontological emotion suffuses his words, and ends by persuading the reader that men and women, life and death, and all things are divinely good.

Thus it has come about that many regard Walt Whitman as the restorer of the eternal natural religion. He has infected them with his own love of comrades, with his own gladness the he and they exist.

William James, The Varieties Of Religious Experience (1902)(edited by PAT).

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3 Responses to “The Varieties Of Religious Experience (Healthy Mindedness)”

  1. Deena Webb says:

    Whitman is often spoken of as a “pagan.” The word nowadays means sometimes the mere natural animal man without a sense of sin; sometimes it means a Greek or Roman with his own peculiar religious consciousness. In neither of these senses does it fitly define this poet. He is more than your mere animal man who has not tasted of the tree of good and evil. He is aware enough of sin for a swagger to be present in his indifference towards it, a conscious pride in his freedom from flexions and contractions, which your genuine pagan in the first sense of the word would never show.

  2. Keep up the insightful posts.

  3. Ronald Eli says:

    It isn’t very often an article interests me enough to get engrossed in the information. This kept me interested from start to finish. Thank you.

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