WHITMAN, WALT (1819-1892, American poet)
AUTOGRAPH POETICAL DRAFTS FOR ONE (PRESUMABLY TWO) STANZAS OF 'LEAVES OF GRASS', both with autograph revisions preserving reconsidered readings, 12 lines in all, written on both sides of an inlaid piece of paper c. 40 x 130 mm (overall size c. 75 x 155 mm); the first a draft for a stanza of Leaves of Grass, and concerning his central concept of Eidolons; the second ending memorably: '...there is much in / it to be left to the sacred decorum / & the Silences which surround the dead', not dated
The first stanza reads:
The circles of Eidolons
The birth and start of each beginning
The mighty art the ceaseless termination
The terminations and the merge
of all again
An early poem in the Inscriptions to Leaves of Grass is entitled 'Eidolons' and is dated 1876 in published versions. The stanza quoted above is clearly an early draft for the third stanza in the printed version which reads:
Ever the dim beginning
Ever the growth, the rounding of the circle,
Ever the summit and the merge at last, (to surely start again,)
Eidolon is a phantom from Greek mythology which literally means 'image of the ideal.' The poetic Whitman of Leaves of Grass was the 'eidolon' Whitman imagined for himself and which he worked to realise - 'the body lurking within the body.' He had always thought of himself as a duality of body and soul but in Eidolons he moves to the idea that his body was creating a soul around his body. In it, he 'finds pleasure in thinking that "the prophet and bard, / Shall yet maintain themselves - in higher stages yet..." and especially that his "Soul" will meet its "mates Eidolons," that "the real myself" is "an image, and Eidolon", and even that his poems create "A round full-orb'd Eidolon."' Whitman's 'pose' was therefore the only true reality. It was one of his central themes.
No printed version of the second fine stanza of this manuscript has been found and it may be entirely unpublished.
PROVENANCE: Kenneth Rendell.
REFERENCES: Frederic I. Carpenter, 'Walt Whitman's Eidolon', College English, March 1942; Gay Wilson Allen, A Reader's Guide to Walt Whitman, 1970; Leaves of Grass.