“Song of Myself” Retelling of Whitman’s poem by Tuomas Holopainen

For those of you who do not know: Tuomas Holopainen is the composer and founder of the group Nightwish. Their latest album, Imaginaerum, was released less than two weeks ago. The last song on this album contains a 6 minute long retelling of Walt Whitman’s “Song of myself.” At first I found this retelling too simplistic in its wording but after listening to it a few times I began to love it. That is why I share it with you now. Press the link and go to youtube to hear the recitation from the poem.

Song of Myself

I see a slow, simple youngster by a busy street,
With a begging bowl in his shaking hand.
Trying to smile but hurting infinitely. Nobody notices.
I do, but walk by.

An old man gets naked and kisses a model-doll in his attic
It’s half-light and he’s in tears.
When he finally comes his eyes are cascading.

I see a beaten dog in a pungent alley. He tries to bite me.
All pride has left his wild eyes.
I wish I had my leg to spare.

A mother visits her son, smiles to him through the bars.
She’s never loved him more.

An obese girl enters an elevator with me.
All dressed up fancy, a green butterfly on her neck.
Terribly sweeet perfume deafens me.
She’s going to dinner alone.
That makes her even more beautiful.

I see a model’s face on a brick wall.
A statue of porcelain perfection beside a violent city kill.
A city that worships flesh.

The first thing I ever heard was a wandering
Man telling his story
It was you, the grass under my bare feet
The campfire in the dead of night
The heavenly black of sky and sea

It was us
Roaming the rainy roads, combing the guilded beaches
Waking up to a new gallery of wonders every morn
Bathing in places no-one’s seen before
Shipwrecked on some matt-painted island
Clad in nothing but the surf – beauty’s finest robe

Beyond all mortality we are, swinging in the breath of nature
In early air of the dawn of life
A sight to silence the heavens

I want to travel where life travels,
Following it’s permanent lead
Where the air tastes like snow music
Where grass smells like fresh-born Eden
I would pass no man, no stranger, no tragedy or rapture
I would bathe in a world of sensation
Love, goodness and simplicity
(While violated and imprisoned by technology)

The thought of my family’s graves was the only moment
I used to experience true love
That love remains infinite,
As I’ll never be the man my father is

How can you “just be yourself”
When you don’t know who you are?
Stop saying “I know how you feel”
How could anyone know how another feels?

Who am I to judge a priest, beggar,
Whore, politician, wrongdoer?
I am, you are, all of them already

Dear child, stop working, go play
Forget every rule
There’s no fear in a dream

“Is there a village inside this snowflake?”
– a child asked me
“What’s the colour of our lullaby?”

I’ve never been so close to truth as then
I touched it’s silver lining

Death is the winner in any war
Nothing noble in dying for your religion
For your country
For ideology, for faith
For another man, yes

Paper is dead without words
Ink idle without a poem
All the world dead without stories
Without love and disarming beauty

Careless realism costs souls

Ever seen the Lord smile?
All the care for the world made Beautiful a sad man?
Why do we still carry a device of torture around our necks?
Oh, how rotten your pre-apocalypse is
All you bible-black fools living over nightmare ground

I see all those empty cradles and wonder
If man will ever change

I, too, wish to be a decent manboy but all I am
Is smoke and mirrors
Still given everything, may I be deserving

And there forever remains the change from G to E minor

– F H Hakansson

20 thoughts on ““Song of Myself” Retelling of Whitman’s poem by Tuomas Holopainen

  1. This piece reminds me of chad, a young boy I’ve meet at the streets.
    This part totally strikes on me….

    Death is the winner in any war
    Nothing noble in dying for your religion
    For your country
    For ideology, for faith
    For another man, yes
    Paper is dead without words
    Ink idle without a poem
    All the world dead without stories
    Without love and disarming beauty
    Careless realism costs souls

    1. I’m glad you took the time to read the recitation. Yes I love that part as well. There is so much in this poem worth thinking about. I kind of wish I came up with it haha.
      I do hope the poem reminds you of Chad because he has a better life now and not because of social difficulties.

    1. I agree! There are so many thoughts in here, so many subtle images, I could never express myself in such a good way. I am truly captivated by this recitation. It’s so much more compact and dense than the original and still packs the (almost) same punch which is an incredible feat!

  2. I see a slow, simple youngster by a busy street,
    With a begging bowl in his shaking hand.
    Trying to smile but hurting infinitely. Nobody notices.
    I do, but walk by.

    Okay this is truly a weird coincidence. Yesterday I was in the city and I walked past a guy who was sitting by a building, with one backpack as his only company. He was holding a cardboard sign, I started to read it: “I am seventeen and homeless …” but I kept on walking. I was tempted to turn back … how fair was it that at sixteen I was given all these amazing opportunities while someone just a bit older than me was sleeping on the streets at night? I realised how sorry I felt for him, and just for a moment I stopped walking and thought about things I could ask him. And I thought maybe I should give him some money (but I didn’t have any on me). Anyway, what could I have done? Five dollars isn’t going to get him a home … but still. A woman, a man, a couple all walked past him and ignored him. Do you think if we all had come together, we could have given this homeless kid what he needed?
    Anyway, I found it so strange that the first stanza of this poem was exactly what I had experienced … and sorry about the lengthy comment, I kind of got lost in the atmosphere of sorrow and pity 😉

    1. I am glad you remembered the first stanza when seeing this young man. I would, unfortunately, have walked by as well. You are probably right in the fact that if a lot of people got together many could be helped and have an improved life. But why should some get this advantage while others do not? What if he was given the same prospects as you but still ended up miserable because of his own actions? It is hard to know the story behind a person. As much as I’d like to believe the world would be a better place if everyone cared more I’m not sure it would change much. There would still be those who would fail in life and those who would misuse people’s trust.
      I think the problem is rather rooted in our society as a whole and the mindset we have. Such a scene should never occur in the first place. I know begging has been a part of man’s behaviour ever since the early rise of Society but a long time has passed and we should be able to make a government and rule where no one has to beg because all are given the same prospects regardless.
      It seems like I’m just rambling now but I guess this is the only way to somewhat reflect the thoughts I have.

      1. Now that I think about it, I don’t really think that if everyone cared, things would change either. And yes, beggars could be anyone, and may have never realised the value or importance of money before ending up on the street.
        Our society is not perfect … and the government is trying their best to end all this unfairness and inequality. But I have the feeling it’s just pointless, you know? There’ll always be flaws.We’ll always see beggars. We’ll always want more. It’s like a balance … as more people get rich, more people are out on the street …
        It’s just a fact of life we have to live with I guess.
        And I think that there really isn’t any answer to this problem. If we give out help too easily to the poor, then those services will be exploited by the rest of society. And if there is one less beggar today, there’ll be a new one tomorrow.

      2. I know – that is most likely the truth – that there will always be beggars and people who exploit the system. I do hope, and hope, that we one day will be smart enough to actually come up with a socio-economic system and a political climate bordering Utopia. I dream of a world without beggars, injustice, and inequality. Something other than ideologies based on Capitalism or Communism – something reaching beyond the aspects of left and right. I guess it’s up to us to come up with such an ideology. Preferable fast before capital West falls and the excessive surplus produced by the East leads to a reverse in power which would essentially break China’s neo-communistic infrastructure.
        But these are still dreams… there is a lot of work to be done before any such society or ideology ever comes to be realised. At least we live in a time where we still have a chance to change the world.

    1. You’re welcome! The lyrics sure are great. I think many will overlook them simply because they are from a nightwish song. Which is too bad really because they are, as you say, thought provoking.

    1. You are right. It is probably better defined as a “retelling” of “Song of myself.” Many stanzas in Whitman’s original poem can be found in a changed, more concentrated form, in the lyrics. An example is:

      “A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
      hands,
      How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any
      more than he.”

      becoming

      ““Is there a village inside this snowflake?”
      – a child asked me
      “What’s the colour of our lullaby?”
      I’ve never been so close to truth as then
      I touched it’s silver lining”

      The main themes and messages of Whitman’s poem have been maintained and some passages, as the one above, are very close to the original.

      If that is the case really wish to read that poem! If you ever remember what it was called I would be happy to have you give me its name. Though I have not read more than perhaps twenty of Whitman’s poems I thoroughly enjoy his work.

  3. I’ve been a big fan of Nightwish for years. I was looking up the lyrics to Song of Myself to find a particular line to possibly include in a self-reflection (“I want to travel where life travels”) when I stumbled upon this blog post. Seeing so many people search for the connections between Holopainen’s lyrics and the original poem only increases my respect for that master composer and fellow pianist.

    1. Thank you for stopping by Jason! I agree, and I find it amazing. Even though it’s over two years since I published this post it’s still one of the most read ones on the site. Holopainen truly deserves more recognition.

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