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Spiritual Democracy


The Ecstatic Whitman: The Body and Sufistic Influences in Leaves of Grass


"The Ecstatic Whitman: The Body and Sufistic Influences in Leaves of Grass," by Ryan Frabizio, is a master's thesis exploring Walt Whitman's use of the body as a locus for spiritual experience in his poetry, particularly in "Leaves of Grass." It delves into how Whitman’s poetic expression of the body shows a strong connection to the practices of medieval Persian Sufi poets.

Chapter Summaries

1. Emersonian Origins and Departures

  • Whitman's poetic development was significantly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson. However, their differing philosophies, especially regarding the cultivation of the soul, led to their eventual separation.
  • Emerson was influenced by medieval Sufi poetry, which he integrated into his work. Whitman also absorbed Sufi ideas through Emerson but diverged in his emphasis on the body and sensual experience.
  • Emerson’s intellectual approach contrasts with Whitman’s focus on the body’s central role in poetic expression.

2. Whitman and Rumi

  • Whitman's poetry shares similarities with Jalaluddin Rumi, a major Sufi poet. Their works exhibit a connection through the use of everyday language and vivid, sometimes erotic imagery to express spiritual themes.
  • The chapter explores how Sufi poetry, especially Rumi’s, influenced Whitman's poetic vision and structure.

3. The Ecstatic Whitman

  • Examines multiple ways Whitman expresses the divine nature of the body in his poems.
  • Whitman’s works reflect Sufi influences, notably in how he perceives and portrays the body as a conduit for spiritual and divine experiences.

Key Themes and Insights

  • Sufistic Influence on Whitman: The thesis highlights how Sufi poetry, particularly that of Rumi, impacted Whitman's use of the body in his poetry.
  • The Body as a Spiritual Medium: Whitman’s poetic treatment of the body is compared to Emerson's intellectualism, revealing a unique blend of physical and spiritual experience in Whitman's work.
  • Philosophical Divergence from Emerson: While initially influenced by Emerson, Whitman's philosophy evolved, emphasizing sensual experience and the physical body, a departure from Emerson's more intellectual approach.


The thesis concludes that Whitman's work represents a fusion of Eastern (Sufistic) and Western (Transcendentalist) influences. This synthesis manifests in a unique poetic expression where the body is not just a physical entity but a vessel for profound spiritual experience and expression.