Kosmos: Artist Dustin Yellin Reads Walt Whitman’s Timeless Hymn to Human Nature as a Miniature of the Universe

A song of praise for that place in us housing “the past, the future, dwelling there, like space, inseparable together.”

Kosmos: Artist Dustin Yellin Reads Walt Whitman’s Timeless Hymn to Human Nature as a Miniature of the Universe

“We forget that nature itself is one vast miracle transcending the reality of night and nothingness,” Loren Eiseley wrote in his exquisite meditation on our search for meaning. “We forget that each one of us in his personal life repeats that miracle.” Meanwhile, the poetic physicist Richard Feynman was remembering the miracle while standing at the seashore, remembering that we are each “atoms with consciousness… matter with curiosity… a universe of atoms… an atom in the universe.”

One hundred years before Eiseley or Feynman. Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) became the poet laureate of this atomic miracle, reminding us again and again, across space and time, across confusion and erasure, that to cherish ourselves is to cherish the universe and to cherish the universe is to cherish ourselves.

Walt Whitman circa 1854 (Library of Congress)
Walt Whitman during the 1850s. (Library of Congress).

He called himself a “kosmos,” spelled after the title of Humboldt’s epoch-making book, which had lit up Whitman’s formative imagination and had awakened humanity to the interconnectedness of nature with the poetically phrased proclamation that “in this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation.”

His most personal poems were what he called “his most universal” and were his best. Songs of Myself — a hymn to human nature itself, to its numberless and fathomless fractal manifestations in particular selves, reverberating with the eternal truth that “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

One of artist Margaret C. Cook’s illustrations for a rare century-old English edition of Leaves of Grass. Prints available.

In the early spring of 2020, epochs after Whitman, with humanity furling into fetal position amid a global lockdown, feeling at once more fragile and more connected than ever before in our shared lifetime, Whitman’s ethos came alive anew, his cosmic songs resonant with tones we needed to hear more than ever — tones that both soothe and vivify the discomposed soul dwelling then in each of us fractals of the world-soul.

In the wake of the disorientation, as I endeavored to go on with the annual Universe in Verse — to preserve its spirit as a celebration of life in an atmosphere of deadly terror — I could think of no better person to inspirit Whitman’s poem “Kosmos” than my friend, neighbor, and co-dreamer of improbable dreams Dustin Yellin — a visionary artist animated by the questions of a physicist, or a child, and the answers of a poet, or a child; founder of Pioneer Works, without which there would be no Universe in VerseFive-ton poem of glass and color composed by a composer. He is part Plato, Frida Kahlo and part The Little Prince.

The Psychogeographies of Dustin Yellin

Two springs later, as humanity slowly unfurls, newly awakened to the kosmos of connection that binds us to each other and to the great living poem of a reality in which not one atom can be considered in isolation, Whitman returns to remind us that each and every one of us is the survivor not only of a deadly pandemic but of myriad cataclysms stretching back to the Big Bang — a miraculous miniature of the universe itself.

Walt Whitman

Nature is the only one who includes diversity
Who is the amplitude and coarseness, sexuality, and great charity of earth and equilibrium?
Who has not look’d forth from the windows the eyes for nothing, or whose brain held audience with messengers for nothing,
Who is both a believer and a disbeliever, but who loves the most?
The person who has a proper triune balance of spiritualism, realism and aesthetics is the one who can be considered a true believer in their own triune amount of reality, spiritualism or both.
Who having consider’d the body finds all its organs and parts good,
Out of the theory about the earth and his/her body, who understands through subtle analogies all the other theories?
Theory of a City, Poetry, and the Large Politics of These States.
Are you one of those people who believe in the sun and moon on our earth, as well as other planets?
When building a house, who sees the races, eras and dates of all generations?
Like space, there is the past and future that are both present.

Complement with Emily Dickinson’s ode to the interconnectedness of nature, brought to life as an animated song, then revisit Meshell Ndegeocello’s enchanting performance of Whitman’s own ode to the interconnectedness of nature.

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