06 October 2009

The Universal Translator

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of
      the Soul,

The pleasures of heaven are with me and 
     the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself,
  the latter I translate into a new tongue.
Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

In those vintage old Star Trek episodes, the crew of the Enterprise can communicate with folks from other galaxies by using the Universal Translator, which conveniently translates the languages spoken on distant planets into English.  Apparently, no one in the TV audience on Earth in the 1960s spoke Klingon, Romulan or Vulcan, though I understand many folks do today. Still, the Universal Translator served its purpose well back then, rendering the speech of those distant races intelligible to a generation of American Trekkies.

When I read the above passage from Whitman, I can't help but think of him as a different sort of Universal Translator, a very literal sort -- he literally (and literarily) Translates the Universe into his poems, a new tongue.

What I, like many readers, find so compelling about Whitman's poetry is the way he takes it all in -- it seems everyone and everything are included in his work. He addresses all of us collectively and at the same moment speaks to each individually.  Indeed, he tells us in the first few lines of "Song of Myself" For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.  Now that's what I call aparigraha!

I wonder what would happen if we stepped into a transporter beam together?