“Manly Health,” with its references to “inspiration and respiration” and the importance of “electricity through the frame,” also echoes the language of earlier poems like “Song of Myself” and “I Sing the Body Electric,” recasting their themes in the more concrete spirit of a self-improvement manual....
Whitman’s first installment strikes a vatic, exclamatory note: “Manly health! Is there not a kind of charm — a fascinating magic in the words?” he writes, before outlining the path to “a perfect body, a perfect blood.”
That torrent of advice that follows touches on sex, war, climate, bathing, gymnastics, baseball, footwear, depression, alcohol, shaving and the perils of “too much brain action and fretting,” in sometimes rambling prose....
“One of Whitman’s core beliefs was that the body was the basis of democracy,” [said Ed Folsom, the editor of The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review]. “The series is a hymn to the male body, as well as a guide to taking care of what he saw as the most vital unit of democratic living.”That's quoted from The New York Times, under the dismayingly lightweight headline "Walt Whitman Promoted a Paleo Diet. Who Knew?"
The Times flags a possible racism issue:
Whitman... includes a racially tinged discussion of the advantages of “our Teutonic ancestors” and other people of the northern climes. “While Whitman doesn’t state openly that a great America is a white America, he does suggest these other races will fall away,” Mr. Turpin said.There's a hefty excerpt here. I liked:
A fine animal man!