Walt Whitman was a writer of light and vision. He invites us to see: cloud-topped mountains, great lakes and rivers, the oceans and those who sail on the ocean, the many different countries of the earth and the people that dwell in them.
In “Salut au Monde!” he shows us the many different homes of the people of the world: “I see distant lands, as real and near to the inhabitants of them as my land is to me.” Real and near, this is what a person’s home is. Real because it is near and familiar. My home is the reality in which I dwell.
Sometimes I feel discomfort when I stray far from home. Things start to seem unreal. Foreign customs, expressions, points of view: all contribute to create a sense that the earth has slipped from under my feet. This is because what I call “real” is just what is familiar to me: I call things “known” and “true” because I am accustomed to them being this way.
But Whitman, as he soars and glides around the world, looking in on the various forms of human life, becomes “at random a part of” these homes. Whitman, poet, is able to make his home anywhere, just for a time. And it is because he is a poet that he can make his home anywhere. The magic that allows him to fit into these homes, to live anywhere however alien the life might be to him, is the magic of respect and love, his respect and love for all human life. He is at home wherever he can find “equals and lovers”, and he can find these in any part of the world. The humanity of the earth is one. As a poet he knows that you don’t simply have a home: you make one. A poet, a maker, is able to do this wherever he or she goes. And conversely: when a poet meets another soul, the poet is able to make a home for this other person, to express the love and understanding that men and women all over the world have in common, so that, looking into the eyes of the poet, you are reminded again, whoever and wherever you are, that you belong in friendship together on the earth.