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Walt Whitman and the Persian Poets

A Study in Literature and Religion
J. R. LeMaster, Sabahat Jahan
ISBN: 978-1-58814-062-3
Format: Hardcover
Trim: 6 x 9 inches
Publication Date: 05/01/2009
Pages: 216
Language: English
Series: Studies in Persian Literature 1
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Where did Walt Whitman get his religious ideas? Walt Whitman and the Persian Poets follows in detail the similarities of the religious beliefs of the American writer/humanist and two major classical Persian poets, Shamseddin Hafez and Jalaleddin Rumi.

Other books have tried to explain Whitman’s religion, but none so far has done justice to the topic. Some critics have labeled Whitman a pantheist and let it go at that. Other critics have dismissed the topic of religion in Whitman’s poems as posturing to gain a readership.

This work contends that Whitman took religion very seriously. His poems are full of religious references. He knew the Bible well. He also had read Emerson on the poets of the East as well as some of the same poets in translation. This book postulates that the counterparts of Whitman’s ideas about religion are best found in the Orient and that his ideas on religion have much in common with those of the Sufis.

Walt Whitman and the Persian Poets focuses on the works of the three poets. Lines from Whitman are quoted and compared with lines from Rumi and Hafez to illustrate that the three poets conveyed their message through very human actions and emotions. Their message, which is mystical, is conveyed through a secular language, and their symbolism is unconventional. They attract the reader through their humanness and in doing so attempt to lead the reader to recognition of the divine existing both inside and outside of themselves.

Like Whitman, Rumi and Hafez realize that God is both transcendent and immanent and as a result encourage their readers to seek the Divine everywhere, especially within themselves. Man’s “true home,” they contend, is his Divine origin. Man is infinitely bound up with God, is never separate from God.

Whitman’s long poem titled “Song of Myself” has created much controversy over the years, and Whitman has often been labeled an extreme egotist. Walt Whitman and the Persian Poets illustrates that all three poets see their egotism as a result of their complete faith in God’s omnipresence and their ability to recognize Him in every aspect of creation. As did Emerson, all three hold a belief in the simultaneous transcendence and immanence of God. In short, they see themselves as God-intoxicated, as reflections of God in the phenomenal world. Therefore, as do the Sufi poets, Whitman sees man and God as one.

J.R. LeMaster has taught English literature for forty-seven years. He is the author and editor of twenty books, including Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, A Companion to Walt Whitman, and The Mark Twain Encyclopedia, and of more than 100 articles.
He was Ohio poet of the year, and a collection of his poems, Journey to Beijing, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by Chinese scholar Wu Ningkun.

Sabahat Jahan is an English lecturer at North South University in Dhaka, Bangladesh. One of her poems won Baylor University’s Beall Poetry Festival Award in 2002.


Introduction to the religious ideas of Whitman and the Persian poets

Whitman as poet–prophet

Rumi and Hafez’s understanding of divine truths through their poetry

Whitman on the nature of man’s divinity and the mystic poet’s egotism

Rumi and Hafez concerning man’s divinity and the mystic poet’s egotism

The three poets’ views on life, death, and immortality

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