Song of Myself Questions and Answers
by Walt Whitman

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Briefly summarize and analyze "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman.

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Mary Sutton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As the previous educator noted, it is impossible to "briefly" summarize "Song of Myself." Any summary offered to you will fail to cover every aspect of the poem. It would be better to summarize a cluster of stanzas, but, even then, sometimes Whitman shifts topics from one stanza to the next.

In addition to the massive poem being a celebration of life, it was also, according to Whitman scholar Ed Folsom, Whitman's idealistic attempt to use a poem to stop the impending Civil War. "Song of Myself" was first published in 1855, at the height of sectarian tensions, inflamed by the Compromise of 1850, which included the new Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The new law demanded that slaves who escaped to the North had to be returned to their Southern plantations. Whitman included a narrative about aiding a fugitive slave, but also included among his vignettes of American life images of black men working and "a quadroon" being sold on an auction block. Whitman's images convey an ambivalence about slavery that may have been the nation's general attitude toward the peculiar institution at the time.

Whitman includes and validates people from every region of the country, despite being a New Yorker himself. He emphasized the beauty and value of every portion of the nation, including newly formed states, such as California and Texas, eschewing the sectionalism that was characteristic of the country at the time (and, arguably, now). Thus, one summary of the poem is that it is a celebration of a great, but troubled, nation.

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morrol eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is simply no way to briefly summarize "Song of Myself". The poem is 52 stanza's of sensuality, vocabulary, rapture, and love. The basic principal that Whitman expressed in his masterpiece is that we, human beings, are all one. We are all connected in the beautiful tapestry of everything. He says "Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you" (stanza 1). The poem glorifies the human spirit and the human form. Whitman saw the human body as a beautiful work of art. "Song of Myself" is a celebration of life.

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alesh31 | Student

Walt Whitman, free verse poet of the 19th century, looms in presence even after death throughout his lyric poem "Song of Myself," part of his larger work Leaves of Grass. The poem's largest and most overriding idea is Whitman's belief that instead of death being an act of finality, it is part of a never-ending cycle. To invoke this idea, Whitman inserts images of the dead and dying alongside images involving survival and vitality. For Whitman, death is a way to connect the people of the past and future--it occurs alongside life and gives way to new life. Springing off of his triggering moment, staring out at blades of grass, Whitman meditates on the idea that after death, we become a part of the earth, helping to create life from our death. In the end, the poem comes full circle as he advises readers to "...look for [him] under your boot-soles" (1330). Whitman walks alongside us, using his poem to speak to us, the people of the future.