Based on the heroes that Whitman catalogues and describes in Song of Myself section 33, what do you think the poet values in terms of human qualities and characteristics?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Section 31-33 of Leaves of Grass, Whitman's rambling lines resonate the vitality of a world of nature and man that is unconfined. With the use of his senses, this poet becomes confirmed in the importance and significance of everything. He extols all that is in nature from a leaf of grass to "the journey work of the stars." Then, in Section 33, Whitman metaphorically travels throughout the world and throughout time--

...my elbows rest in sea-gaps;
I skirt the siennas--my palms cover continents
I am afoot with my vision....
...waking the old hills of Judea...
Speeding through space...heaven and the stars.

After having done this, the poetic "I" declares that he understands "the large heart of heroes." These are the ones that Whitman lists:

  • the sea captain
  • the suffering passengers and crew
  • the olden martyrs
  • the hunted slave
  • the wounded in battle
  • the fireman
  • the "old artillerist"
  • the workmen who search for the wounded and dead of battle
  • the drummers who spur those in battle
  • the dying general who waves away help for himself 

In these heroes (this excludes the suffering passengers and the slave), the poet admires the altruism and the sacrifice of oneself for a greater good and higher principles. The poet sympathizes with human suffering as demonstrated by the people leaving the sinking ship and the slave who strives for freedom but is shot down or beaten. Certainly, in all of these mentioned, the poet values their courage.

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