They Sing The Body Electric


“…If any thing is sacred, the human body is sacred,
And the glory and sweet of a man, is the token of manhood untainted;
And in man or woman, a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is beautiful as the most beautiful face…”

I Sing The Body Electric

(Fragment)

 
 

I Sing the Body Electric is a poem by Walt Whitman from his 1855 collection Leaves of Grass. Its original publication, like the other poems in Leaves of Grass, did not have a title. In fact, the line “I sing the body electric” was not added until the 1867 edition. At the time, “electric” was not yet a commonly used term.

Whitman here explores the physical body at length. In other poems he has established the interconnectedness of the body and the soul; here he celebrates the primacy of the body and its importance in forging connections between people. This is yet another poem of lists, which again imply a democratizing force at work. Whitman’s egalitarianism is a particularly important aspect of this poem, for it allows him to argue against the kind of valorization of the body implicit in slavery.

The lists alternate with anecdotal and propositional sections, which allow Whitman to work out some of the issues surrounding the body. This makes “Body Electric” one of his more highly structured poems. Just as various organs and features come together in the greater structure of the human body, so too do the various bits and pieces of Whitman’s poetry come together in a greater whole.

 
 

In 1969, author Ray Bradbury published I Sing the Body Electric, a science fiction anthology named after the poem and including a short story by the same title. The short story was based on a 1962 Twilight Zone episode that Bradbury had also written.

 
 

“…The man’s body is sacred, and the woman’s body is sacred;
No matter who it is, it is sacred;
Is it a slave? Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on the wharf?
Each belongs here or anywhere, just as much as the well-off—just as much as you;
Each has his or her place in the procession…”

 
 

I Sing the Body Electric is the title and first line of a song from the 1980 musical film Fame (Alan Parker, 1980)

 
 

The Body Electric, a 1984 song by Rush off the album Grace Under Pressure

 
 

“…Have you ever loved the Body of a woman?
Have you ever loved the Body of a man?
Your father—where is your father?
Your mother—is she living? have you been much with her? and has she been much with you?
—Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all, in all nations and times, all over the earth?…”

 
 

The song, Body Electric by Lana Del Rey, alludes to Walt Whitman in the lyric, “Whitman is my daddy.” The song’s chorus of “I sing the body electric” is a direct reference to his poem. Del Rey has cited Whitman as an inspiration, recalling his chapbook Leaves of Grass as instrumental to her songwriting.

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