Transcending Body: Lucretius, Whitman, and the Atoms In Between

Open Access
Myers, Jessica Renee
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • John Edmond Marsh, Thesis Supervisor
  • Marcy Lynne North, Honors Advisor
  • lucretius
  • walt whitman
  • ancient latin poetry
  • american poetry
  • epic poems
Within the poetry of Lucretius and Whitman, both the small and large complexities of the universe are divulged and elaborated. Respectively poets from Ancient Rome and nineteenth- century America, their expansive treatises, epic poems in their own right, aim to fully understand the universe and grasp its core concepts: atomic makeup and interconnectivity, the interplay of the sexes, and death and the afterlife. Although these poets are separated by several seas and almost two thousand years, the rhetoric and ideologies of their poems are astoundingly similar, suggesting that the atomic basis of the universe allows for an intertwining of every living being, stretching into the infinite past and future. Both poems, in addition to speaking poetically of the eternal embracing and fecundity of the universe, were composed during comparative historical moments of political turbulence and societal transformations. Lucretius wrote De Rerum Natura right as the downfall of the Roman Republic was on the verge of giving way to the Roman Empire; Whitman’s Leaves of Grass appeared in 1855, the product of a newly founded America, a country that was still finding its footing and experiencing social fracture amid the issue of slavery. Though an unlikely pairing, these two poets and their respective magna opera (great works) share a similar set of beliefs that are realized in the scopes of two separate cultures and eras, and ultimately these two independent poems are entwined within the same poetic soul — just as their poets are interwoven by the eternal, unending atoms of the universe.