Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking Themes

Walt Whitman

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Walt Whitman was passionately in love with opera, and this passion is revealed in “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” with its reliance upon operatic techniques and references, in particular, the aria. Still another connection to the operatic form is the suggestion that apparent tragedy is cause for music, for hope, for a belief in the transcending power of life.

The first stanza of Whitman’s poem ends with a line referring to the narrator’s singing “a reminiscence.” The reminiscence, in this case, is life that yields to death, which, in turn, ushers in new life. The arias sung by the birds present this cyclic view of life, as do the commentaries by the bard himself. It is not coincidental that the sea is critical in this remembering process and is the final image of the poem, for the sea is the image par excellence of change, of tides coming and going, of life continuing, despite storms and deaths, of songs sung by two that become arias sung by one. What comes out of a cradle endlessly rocking, in Whitman’s view, is essentially life, then death, then more and endless life. The cycle, not the specific parts of the circle, is what finally counts.