My Contradictory Multitudes: Bob Dylan, Walt Whitman, And My Own Song of Myself

Matthew Oldridge
3 min readNov 16, 2020

Bob Dylan brought back Walt Whitman’s famous words this year, in the form of a song he called “I Contain Multitudes”.

Here Dylan with his grizzled wit and 60 year old poetic persona recontextualizes Whitman’s famous words from his poem “Song of Myself”.

As Dylan would have it, in just one of the playful lines in his song:

I fuss with my hair, and I fight blood feuds I contain multitudes.

Vanity and false pride coexisting together. Preening in a mirror, and then seeking to destroy enemies.

Whitman’s words resound and resonate through the ages since they are so relatable. Do I contradict myself? Always, or rather, often. Am I too proud one moment, and full of self-doubt the next? Too sensitive, but yet too bold in my criticisms of others. Expecting to be treated softly, while not treating others softly enough. Expecting from others that which I myself cannot give, or cannot always give. Boastful, then shy. Miserable when depression hits, and then full of joy at the falling leaves and the way they crunch underfoot and the smell in the air as I walk and appreciate the world around me. Or, if I am lost in thought or worried: not even noticing the glory of Fall around me.

I knew of Whitman’s poem when I was a much younger man. I knew of my contradictory multitudes even then. I knew that I could hate, but resisted being hated. I wanted love, but was unable to give it.

This Dylan lyric describes me, and it might describe you:

I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods I contain multitudes.

This piece came from finding a scrap of paper where I wrote:

my contradictory multitudes

I can’t speak of them as well as Whitman or Dylan, world-shaking poets that they are and were. Humans are non-dichotomous. In our unique states of consciousness, we are many things, many things that the soup and spark of our brains brings from one moment to the…

Matthew Oldridge

Writing about creativity, books, productivity, education, particularly mathematics, music, and whatever else “catches my mind”. ~Thinking about things~