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The powerful influence of operatic music expressed itself in two ways in Whitman's work. The first is the more general way of inspiration, the second, method. Whitman was a genuine mystic; that has long been established. But the mystical state is for many mystics not automatic or easily come by. Many are lifted to mystic perception of truth only with the aid of powerful external forces. For some the beauty of nature has served. Whitman also became peculiarly responsive to nature, but the force which alone was sufficiently inspirational to elevate him to genuine mystical heights was operatic music. The first account from his pen of a mystical experience was of one induced by music, and in the notebooks he kept while he was preparing the first Leaves of Grass he recorded an almost clinical account of such a moment. Later, in his great poem, "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," he confessed symbolically that through emotional experiences of shattering intensity, the music of the opera house awakened him to his poet's destiny.
Like all genuine mystical experiences, these were significant because of their revelations to the poet. In these moments of inexplicable rapture, truth was made plain to the poet. He came to perceive the meaning of life, and, more important to him, the meaning of death, and of all things bridging the gap from one to the other, as he said. The details of existence, monotonous, sordid, exhilarating and beautiful, all fell into their proper places, and he fell heir to a boundless optimism and confidence in ultimate good. He did not hear these things in the music; music opened his mind, or his soul, and the profound convictions flowed in unbidden.
A peculiar fact about such moments is that for Whitman, either in the experience or in the recollection, there was something essentially sexual in them. He never wrote of such an occasion except in terms of sexual excitement. We cannot be sure whether the moments were so experienced, as the result of his admittedly abnormal sexual nature, or whether in recording them he deliberately attempted to avoid what to him would have been the mistake of glorifying the soul at the expense of the body. At any rate the sexual imagery is always present. Perhaps the easiest explanation is that his response to the voice, so peculiarly strong, was in some special way a sexual one. Since it was vocal music which inspired him, perhaps the mystical experiences were never separable from physical ones in his recollections, and his poetic accounts were a release through art of emotional needs.