Regarding My 37th Birthday and Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

Luke Austin Daugherty on his 37th birthday.

Luke Austin Daugherty on his 37th birthday. -Photo credit: Nathanael Daugherty

I am a fresh 37 years old today. It is not a very impressive year in any obvious way. Not 30 or 40. Not even 35, splitting the difference between the two. Yet, I am now as happy and content as I recollect ever being on a birthday morning from a data set of thirty-seven. 

It has been an interesting experiment for me on several occasions to contrast myself at a particular age to a well-known person or a person I admire in some way. Due to the flapping of the butterfly’s wings and the serendipity of chance, I have occasion to do that today. Several weeks ago, Robin Williams took his own life, which caused me to reflect on how the movie, “Dead Poets Society,” had such an impact on me as a teenager. Reflecting on that movie brought Walt Whitman to mind, a favorite poet of mine. Yesterday, unrelated to the previous scenario, a friend on Facebook shared a list of questions given to Karl Marx by his daughters in 1865. I decided to write my own set of answers. In doing so, I needed to refer to, “Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman, which had been brought to mind earlier this month by Robin Williams’s death. 

As I read the beginning of, “Song of Myself,” I realized that Whitman was writing the poem at the age of 37. Toward the beginning of the poem, Whitman mentioned his age specifically and that he was in good health. I wondered if he actually wrote it on his own birthday or at least started the poem then, since it is fairly long. Being one day shy of 37 when I noticed that yesterday, I committed to myself to revisit Whitman and his poem today, on my 37th birthday. That may seem the long way around to arrive at this point in my birthday blog, but it has always interested me how the laws of cause and effect operate in one’s life. 

Walt Whitman at approximately my own present age

Walt Whitman at approximately my own present age

I suppose the greatest commonality I share with Whitman is that we’re both (or rather, he was and I am) a scripturient. Aside from that, we share indie/self-published author status. I have always admired the fact that he published, “Leaves of Grass,” on his own dime. Thus far, every album and book I have published has been done the same way. I don’t even know if I would want to change that. I am feverishly territorial and independent about my writing and process. Both Whitman and I are beardy men. (I reckon I’ll just speak of him as though he was in the present tense for sake of ease and simplicity) I have had a much more epic beard previously than I do now. I am currently trimming it at a #4 length and it used to be several inches long. It seems, by the available pictures, that Whitman’s beard grew in length as he grew more long in the tooth. 

“Song of Myself,” has been oft criticized for more than a century as the most egotistical poem ever written. Even if that were true, I do not see it as a negative. It isn’t a bad thing to love one’s own self, so long as it doesn’t lead to narcissism, spite for others, or destructive selfishness. I think it takes several decades of life to learn to really love yourself well and independent of the critique of others. I believe that it is very difficult to love others properly without loving one’s self first. A self-hater rarely finds anything untainted to offer a fellow human, even when he or she would like to. So, I hold no penalty toward Whitman for esteeming himself well. Loving yourself also does not have a direct correlation to degrading others or celebrating them less in proportion. Perhaps the opposite tends to be the rule. 

Below are just a few selected lines from, “Song of Myself,” which I most relate to or find inspirational now in my own 37th year as Whitman was when he wrote them.

“I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, Hoping to cease not till death.”

“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the
     origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are
     millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor
     look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the
     spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things
     from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.”

“These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands,
     they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or
     next to nothing,”

“Have you heard that it was good to gain the day?
I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in
  ”   which they are won.”

“I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is
     myself,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or
     ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can
     wait.” 

“I seize the descending man and raise him with resistless will,
O despairer, here is my neck,
By God, you shall not go down! hang your whole weight
     upon me.”

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)” 

For the complete text, please visit this link:

“Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman

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2 thoughts on “Regarding My 37th Birthday and Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

  1. I ended up here because I was looking up that line of Whitman’s, feeling similar feelings as you are here since I’ll be thirty-seven in six months. I hope you’ve been loving yourself more and contradicting the hell out of yourself, feeling that freedom.

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