Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Whitman is, here, slyly critical of poetry analysis, posing the rhetorical questions almost as jibes or indications that the poem’s addressee has not reckoned a thousand acres much, let alone the whole of the earth or any of a million suns. Whitman implies that it is no great thing to be able to read, nor to interpret poetry through the second- and third-hand works of other scholars. He derides these scholars as “spectres in books,” or to use the parlance of second- and third-wave feminism, “dead white males.”
But he is not critical only of the critics of ages past, but even of his own words: “you shall not… take things from me.” Instead, Whitman wants his reader to get to the numinous heart of life: his use of night and day, earth and sun, suggests the cyclical nature of life which never changes (there are still millions of suns). Spiritual enlightenment is the root of, and the key to understanding, all poetry. His words are reminiscent of Levar Burton hosting the children’s program Reading Rainbow, “But you don’t have to take my word for it!”
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