Walt Whitman

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Choose one image that Walt Whitman consistently follows in his poem "Song of Myself" and explain in detail what it means personally, using quotes to explain an opinion of the work.

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Whitman's poem relies most on nature imagery. The central and most important image of the poem is the "spear of summer grass" that Whitman introduces in the fifth line. That one blade of grass sums up Whitman's philosophy of life—we are all connected, living and dead, in the greater circle of life. The poet is responding to the democratic ideals of American society, that we are all equals, equally important and equally invested in the cosmos. Beyond that, however, he is singing about larger truths of life and death, as symbolized by the blade of grass.

The speaker of the poem “loafes” around (lazily lays about) and observes “a spear of summer grass.” Looking at the piece of grass inspires the entire poem. The speaker comes to realize that his very being is made up of the environment around him—the atoms that are a part of his body are a part of everything else, including the grass. "My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air" (line 6).

This realization leads him on a journey through the circle of life, where he first describes a child discovering the blade of grass. This image becomes a metaphor where the blade of grass is the child: "Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation" (line 105). He reinforces this metaphor by describing the color of the grass, which is too dark to come "from the white heads of old mothers" or "the colorless beards of old men" (lines 117/118). The blade of grass cannot be old, so it must be young.

The blade of grass is young, but it is also ageless. It represents not just youth but a complete absence of death. The grass is everywhere and a part of everything. "This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is/This the common air that bathes the globe" (359/360). The interconnectedness of man and man, man and nature, and man and cosmos is shown by the grass. "I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars" (line 663). Whitman brings us upward and outward from a blade of grass on the ground to show us the whole world and then the stars above the world.

Whitman's use of "I" and "you" in the poem further echoes this idea that we are all connected—the two subjects are connected, for "what I shall assume you shall assume" (line 2). The poem is a personal celebration of the "I," but also an extension beyond the "I" to the "you." Think about it—the land one individual walks on, the blades of grass trampled by one set of feet, were walked on by those who came before and will be walked on by those who come after. In a metaphysical way, each blade of grass is a tie that binds the universe together.

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