To Think of Time: by Walt Whitman - Summary & Analysis

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      Introduction. To Think of Time, is a poem of about hundred and twenty lines of unequal length divided into unequal sections, nine in number. The former four or five sections strike a pathetic note reminding us of inevitable death and the certainty of our being no more in the future to witness its activities or participate in them. The later sections reveal the poet’s optimistic attitude and his steadfast faith in the essential good nature of the Universe around us.

      Summary. Death is a harsh fact that stares us in the face for ever. “He that was President was buried and he that is now President shall surely be buried.” Child accouchement (birth) and the appearance of a corpse occur every minute. The future is nothing and that necessitates today being nothing along with the beginningless past. People are interested in and assiduously engaged in farming activities, business dealings and hundreds of other profitable occupations but once they are dead those activities cease to be of any avail to them. This sad truth need not make us sorry; “something long preparing and formless is arrived arid formed in you”. This is our birth. There are certain laws that govern us and they cannot be changed or dodged whether we are saintly or sinful. But all the lives are precious. Everything is perfect whether it is good or bad in the eyes of the society. Immortality is the key-note of the scheme that sustains the universe. The poet swears that he thinks “that everything without exception has an eternal soul”.

      In the First Section, the poet warns us that although we are very much alive, real and flexible now, although we are now here and bear our part, soon there will be a time when “you and I did not see, feel, think nor bear our part”.

      In the Second Section, the poet speaks of death. He gives a pathetic description of the death of a sick man and then says:

The faithful hand of the living does not desert the hand of the dying.
The twitching lips press lightly on the forehead of the dying,
The breath ceases and the pulse of the heart ceases,
The corpse stretches on the bed and the living look upon it,
It is palpable as the living are palpable.

      In the Third Section, the poet reminds us that others will be taking interest in the wonders of the city and country long after we have ceased taking any interest only because we would have ceased to be by that time. We try to make our lives comfortable as long as we live and the same will be the case with the others as well. The President of the land is sure to die in the same way as the simplest of the citizens will.

      In the Fourth Section, the poet describes in detail the death and burial of a coach driver. The minutest detail is a fine specimen of the poet’s command over the subjects he handles.

He was a good fellow, free-mouthed, quick tempered, not bad looking
Ready with life or death for a friend, fond of women, gambled, ate hearty, drank hearty.
Had known what it was to be flush, grew low spirited toward the last.
Died aged forty one years and that was his funeral.

      The details of his burial, the others were interested in but he himself does not evince any interest in them. In the Fifth Section another aspect of the same is dealt with. The difference between the rustic and the refined, the sinner and the good-natured, is bound to continue but those who are alive now will not be there to take part in the pleasures and sorrows of the succeeding generation. The agricultural activities, business dealings, etc. will be changing hands and will be continued forever. In Section Six after striking a pathetic note, the poet switches on to an optimistic narration. The world is real and earnest. We cannot reject the world as mere phantasmagoria. All domestic joys, and business have weight, form, location. We are not to be cast to the winds.

      In Section Seven, something that had been formless and in the process of being in preparation for a long time takes a definite shape and that is called birth.

You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes.

      But the poet warns us that the eternal laws cannot be eluded whether we are heroes, good-doers, drunkards, mean persons, etc. Sections Eight and Nine round off the details regarding the optimistic attitude. All lives are valuable whether we are barbarians of Africa and Asia or the sophisticated civilized European citizens or American democrats.

Pleasantly and well-suited I walk, whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good
The whole universe indicates that it is good
The past and present indicate that it is good

      In the end the poet says that everything has an eternal soul and concludes

And all preparation is for it-and identity is for it-and life and materials are altogether for it.

      Critical Analysis. The poem, To Think of Time, has an ennobling effect on the reader. Despite its ugliness and evil the world deserves our love and sympathy. We must reconcile ourselves to this world with a broad outlook, viewing different races of people all alike.

      Walt Whitman is ever conscious of the dark sides of life, the existence of evil and sin, but he wants us to accept these things as essential adjuncts of the vast universe. The fact that there are murderers, drunkards, liars and other types of mean persons along with heroic stalwarts of good reputation and sober behavior should not cause mental depression in us. Democratic quality in us should not be confined to its political aspect alone by having a particular type of administrative unit in the governmental set up. The goal of life is bound to be good whether we are aware of it or not.

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