The title of this episode comes from Leaves of Grass. It continues Breaking Bad's ongoing Walt Whitman fixation: "Gliding o'er all, through all, /Through Nature, Time, and Space, /As a ship on the waters advancing, /The voyage of the soul--not life alone, /Death, many deaths I'll sing." American literature scholars should feel free to jump in with a deeper analysis, but I saw these lines as a sort of stealth summary of the show we've been watching
Leaves of Grass is slowly making its way into pop culture, one major example being in the mid-season 5 finale of Breaking Bad. The book Leaves of Grass could become a major piece of evidence in the persecution of Walter White, as well as a possible insight to his former assistant's feelings about him.
The city sleeps and the country sleeps,
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time,
The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband sleeps by his wife;
And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.
Throughout Whitman's writings there are consistent references to his homosexuality. "Leaves of Grass" perhaps serves as the best indication of this reality, as Whitman made many analogies to his sexual orientation. Indeed, Whitman's poetry does appear to indicate that Whitman was a homosexual, and it is evident from his notebooks, his letters, and the patterns of his personal relationships as well. Poetry appears to have served as a metaphor for his sexual tendencies, and it offered indications of his sexual desire and conduct.
One of the most compelling aspects of "Song of Myself" is the poet's comprehensive and even oceanic sense of the "self." He repeatedly collapses the dualities through which we ordinarily see the world, high and low, good and evil, male and female, I and you. Further, he seems to say that both he and all people are identified in some way with each other and with all things. And yet, for all the abstractness of such an idea, the poem teems with specific descriptions of all sorts of people pursuing their various purposes, both ordinary and exceptional, across the moral spectrum.
One particular author that participated in the Civil War continued the transcendental movement while incorporating his experiences was Walt Whitman.
Walt Whitman began his transcendental writing in 1855, but continued his writings after serving in the Civil War as a field-surgeon, with Leaves of Grass. In his first writings, he made it clear that the works of Emerson, too, influenced him. Whitman had many connections with several transcendentalists including: Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Blake.
The major themes of the work include democracy, sexuality, death, and immortality; universality and the divine nature of the self are also concepts that thread their way through much of his work. The first edition contained twelve poems, which shocked the public with their realistic imagery and candid discussions of sexuality. The volume received little praise from critics, with Ralph Waldo Emerson being the notable exception.
The 1855 publication of Leaves of Grass was heralded by anonymous reviews printed in New York papers, which were clearly written by Whitman himself. They accurately described the break-through nature of his "transcendent and new" work. "An American bard at last!" trumpeted one self-review. Whitman also soon received a generous boost of publicity from Fanny Fern. The best-selling writer befriended the newly published poet and aided his public relations. She championed Leaves as daring and fresh in her popular column in the New York Ledger on May 10, 1856.
The "Leaves of Grass," under which designation Whitman includes all his poems, are unlike anything else that has passed among men as poetry. They are neither in rhyme nor in any measure known as blank verse; and they are emitted in spurts or gushes of unequal length, which can only by courtesy be called lines. Neither in form nor in substance are they poetry; they are inflated, wordy, foolish prose; and it is only because he and his eulogists call them poems, and because I do not care to dispute about words, that I give them the name.
So utterly out of keeping with the current taste in poetry was Whitman's work, that the first impression of it was, and in many minds still is, to excite mirth and ridicule. This was partly because it took no heed of the conventionalities of poetry or of human life, and partly because of the naive simplicity of the author's mind. In his poetry he seems as untouched by our modern sophistications and the over-refinements of modern culture as any of the Biblical writers.
When Walt Whitman published his first edition of Leaves of Grass on or around the fourth day of July in 1855, he believed he was embarking on a personal literary journey of national significance. Setting out to define the American experience, Whitman consciously hoped to answer Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1843 essay, "The Poet," which called for a truly original national poet, one who would sing of the new country in a new voice. The undertaking required unlimited optimism, especially considering the fact that Whitman had published only a small handful of poems prior to 1855; however, Whitman felt confident that the time was ripe and that the people would embrace him.