Honors Presents Lecture: Dr. Sexson - I Contain Multitudes: A Reading of Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’
- Friday, September 11, 2020 from 4:00pm to 5:30pm
In this presentation I intend to introduce viewers to the “Hike and Read” Honors program at MSU, which unfortunately could not happen this year due to COVID-19. I will be discussing the poem “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman. The poem joins six previous Hike and Read books which have as their defining characteristic the giving of the highest quality to the reader’s moments as those moments pass. I will focus on a mere six words in the 51st section of the poem which goes “I am large. I contain multitudes.” These now famous lines need to be understood not only in the context of the poem itself, but also in larger historical and imaginative contexts reaching back into the past as far as the Hindu religious classic “The Bhagavad Gita” and also into the future to encompass a recent song by Bob Dylan and a non fiction book on microbes by Ed Yong, both of which are titled “I Contain Multitudes.” Using this approach as a base, I will then invite the students (as well as other viewers who wish to participate) to compose a response (in the form of a traditional essay or perhaps a short video) to the phrase “I Contain Multitudes.” My own approach to this project will necessarily include a linking of the phrase to the task of the Humanities in higher education which is, I believe, one of vastly enlarging our powers of imagination. While it would be helpful to viewers to have read Whitman’s poem which, as a public domain document, is widely available online, the presentation should be mostly clear and comprehensible without that benefit. Of all the texts I have been involved with through the Hike and Read program, I’m convinced that Whitman’s three words “I Contain Multitudes” provides the richest and most satisfying possibilities. — Michael Sexson
Dr. Michael Sexson is retired Regents Professor and Professor Emeritus at Montana State University where he taught English from 1966 to 2014. He is the author of numerous publications principally related to the subject of religion and literature. He has organized several nationally recognized campus events including Eclipse’ 79 and Logon ’83 which was recognized by the National Endowment for the Humanities as best humanities program in the country in 1984. Although retired, he maintains contact with MSU’s Honors Program’s Hike and Read event involving the Fall semester reading and discussion of a significant book.
- Honors Presents Lecture Series