Whitman's essential message was the Open Road. The leaving of the soul free unto herself, the leaving of his fate to her and to the loom of the open road. Which is the bravest doctrine man has ever proposed to himself.
Alas, he didn't quite carry it out. He couldn't quite break the old maddening bond of the love-compulsion; he couldn't quite get out of the rut of the charity habit - for Love and Charity have degenerated now into a habit: a bad habit.
Whitman said Sympathy. If only he had stuck to it! Because Sympathy means feeling with, not feeling for. He kept on having a passionate feeling for the negro slave, or the prostitute, or the syphilitic - which is merging. A sinking of Walt Whitman's soul in the souls of these others.
He wasn't keeping to the open road. He was forcing his soul down an old rut. He wasn't leaving her free. He was forcing her into other people's circumstances.
Supposing he had felt true sympathy with the negro slave? He would have felt with the negro slave. Sympathy - compassion - which is partaking of the passion which was in the soul of the negro slave. ...
The soul is a very perfect judge of her own motions, if your mind doesn't dictate to her. Because the mind says Charity! Charity! you don't have to force your soul into kissing lepers or embracing syphilitics. Your lips are the lips of your soul, your body is the body of your soul; you own single, individual soul. That is Whitman's message. And your soul hates syphilis and leprosy. Because it is a soul, it hates these things, which are against the soul. And therefore to force the body of your soul into contact with uncleanness is a great violation of your soul. The soul wishes to keep clean and whole. The soul's deepest will is to preserve its own integrity against the mind and the whole mass of disintegrating forces.
Soul sympathizes with soul. And that which tries to kill my soul, my soul hates. My soul and my body are one. Soul and body wish to keep clean and whole. Only the mind is capable of great perversion. Only the mind tries to drive my soul and body into uncleanness and unwholesomeness.
What my soul loves, I love.
What my soul hates, I hate.
When my soul is stirred with compassion, I am compassionate.
What my soul turns away from, I turn away from.
That is the true interpretation of Whitman's creed: the true revelation of his Sympathy.
--from Studies in Classic American Literature