‘Do I contradict myself?

‘Do I contradict myself?
Very well, I contradict myself
(I am large; I contain multitudes)’

It is difficult for a European to accept American individualism as an unambiguous Good Thing. ‘But it’s selfish!’ we cry. ‘And lonely! And what about universal healthcare?’

However, today I feel in the mood for some Whitman, whose barbaric yawp silences my inner Eurotrash so that, like Molly Bloom, I assent joyfully. This is a good poem for the start of a century.

    ‘I celebrate myself,
    And what I assume you shall assume,
    For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

    I loafe and invite my soul,
    I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

    Houses and rooms are full of perfumes—the shelves are crowded with perfumes;
    I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it;
    The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

    The atmosphere is not a perfume—it has no taste of the distillation—it is odorless;
    It is for my mouth forever—I am in love with it;
    I will go to the bank by the wood, and become undisguised and naked;
    I am mad for it to be in contact with me.’