December 6, 2013
I read Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” as a junior in high school, in its entirety, and it gave a whole new meaning to living in America. I have chosen a few stanzas of this epic 52-section poem as the work I’d share with someone in the Dutch culture; it acts as a representation of America in terms of slowing down to admire nature and romanticized growing up. I have gathered that the Dutch are efficient, professional, conforming individuals and although they live in beautiful surroundings, the culture rarely takes time to truly relax. In a small but busy city, it is easy to get caught up in always having somewhere to be or something to do. Especially in a city with so many things to experience, children seem to grow up fast and have many responsibilities from a young age.
Whitman frequently mentions becoming one with nature and observing it. These are two examples:
“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.” Section 2
“I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.” Section 1
These two stanzas reflect the popular American literature topic of Transcendentalism, which is something that I don’t see relating too much to Dutch culture. While Whitman emphasizes becoming one with nature and inviting his soul to observe a spear of grass, I initially thought that the Dutch might interpret such as act as a waste of time, or something that would make an individual stand out from the rest of society in a bad way. While Amsterdam does have beautiful parks and the cycling brings civilians outside everyday, nature isn’t usually recognized aside from plants in a canal house window. Perhaps because Holland is relatively flat and manmade, the Dutch are simply unaware of the awe that natural features in America, such as the Grand Canyon, can evoke. Tulip fields might be as close as the Dutch will get. I did, however, have the chance to go to a protected piece of land where the Waternet drinking water treatment facility is located. I saw a few locals walking the park and also saw quite a lot of deer. Outside of Amsterdam, nature holds quite a bit of importance. I think it must just be lacking in my city.
Also, while there is less judicial presence in Amsterdam, citizens still rely on rules and regulations to run the city. They dislike those that don’t choose to conform to Dutch standards, and even have a distinct phrase, “doe normaal,” which means, “act normal as to not embarrass yourself… normal is weird enough!”
“Solitary at midnight in my back yard, my thoughts gone from me a long while,
Walking the old hills of Judæa with the beautiful gentle God by my side,
Speeding through space, speeding through heaven and the stars,
Speeding amid the seven satellites and the broad ring, and the diameter of
eighty thousand miles,
Speeding with tail’d meteors, throwing fire-balls like the rest,
Carrying the crescent child that carries its own full mother in its belly,
Storming, enjoying, planning, loving, cautioning,
Backing and filling, appearing and disappearing,
I tread day and night such roads.” Section 33
Whitman also mentions God and worship in his poem, which would be something that the Dutch would question. Although God isn’t necessarily included in Transcendentalism, Whitman does give reference to God as something he see’s in everyone. The Netherlands has a very secular culture, with 42% of the population categorized as “unreligious” in 2006. If anything, this percentage would have increased in recent years. Perhaps this notion of God that Whitman has is related to his experience in nature, as many that experience nature feel as though something larger must be involved in creating natural wonders. There is another saying for the Dutch; “God created the Earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.” If the country lives by such belief, the Dutch would feel even more separated from God, and therefore couldn’t relate to Whitman’s poem and how God can represent beauty in his surroundings.
Although I didn’t have the time to explain this poem or encourage a Dutch friend to read it, I feel confident in how I have stated that they might respond. They would respond in a very direct way, also, and not be afraid to call me (or Whitman) out on some of his statements. Rereading this poem for my assignment, especially a day after Thanksgiving, makes me miss this aspect of America as I can’t find much of that in Amsterdam. While the city is beautiful, and I’m sure the tulips will bring a lot of awe into my life, I do realize this need for escaping established institutions and return to more natural roots is not something that the Dutch can, or really desire perhaps, to do.