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Could someone break down the 2nd verse of this poem?I have 20 questions to answer but I...

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issa2488 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 30, 2010 at 7:09 AM via web

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Could someone break down the 2nd verse of this poem?

I have 20 questions to answer but I am horrible at figuring out the meaning of poems or what is being said.

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kmcappello | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted August 30, 2010 at 9:31 AM (Answer #1)

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Walt Whitman's long, free-verse poem, "Song of Myself" is probably his most important, and most quoted work.  It consists of an astounding 52 sections in which Whitman celebrates humanity and individuality.

I am guessing you are referring to the 2nd section, the one which begins "Houses and rooms are full of perfumes" and ends with "You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self."  It is interesting that you have to answer questions about what this section means, because it's message is, in essence, that we make our own meaning based on our observations of, and interactions with, the world.  The speaker of the poem begins this section by talking about the "perfume" of houses, rooms, and other man-made places.  He then compares that "distillation" to the odors of nature, which include his own odor:

The smoke of my own breath, 
Echoes, ripples, buzz'd whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine, 
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing 
of blood and air through my lungs, 
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and 
dark-color'd sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn

Speaking about this essence of life, he says, "I am mad for it to be in contact with me," meaning, he wants to be up close and personal, experiencing these sights and smells first-hand.

The speaker then switches gears, addressing another person.  He says:

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the earth much? 
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read? 
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

He implies by these lines that long study from books is not enough to know the world.  He urges this person (or you, the reader, if you like) to get out and experience things for him- or herself, to "listen to all sides and filter them from your self" in order to get to his or her own individualized truth.  Only then will that person know "the origin of all poems."

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