Consider the confident tone of the speaker’s voice in the third stanza of section 31 of “Song of Myself.” The shapes, sizes, and dangers in this passage are often taken as the sublime, something to be regarded with awe and terror. How does Whitman treat the sublime in this poem?

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The speaker of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself ” treats the sublime as something that is accessible and all around him. In the third line of the poem, he announces, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” This suggests that excellence and grandeur lie...

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The speaker of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” treats the sublime as something that is accessible and all around him. In the third line of the poem, he announces, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” This suggests that excellence and grandeur lie within everyone. In the first line of the poem, he says, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself.” If the speaker is celebrating himself, and his atoms include those of others, then he’s also celebrating others—he’s praising their supreme beauty.

In the fifth section, the speaker asserts that every man who was ever born qualifies as his brother. He calls all women his “sisters and lovers.” Once again, Whitman treats the sublime as an inclusive, all-encompassing phenomenon. Even the “brown ants” and the “mossy scabs of the worm fence” seem to possess a particular majesty in the eyes of the speaker.

In section 31, Whitman enumerates things that could arguably counter the poem’s communal treatment of the sublime. Yet nothing—not “plutonic rocks,” nor an ocean, nor a snake—can resist Whitman’s indefatigable notion of the sublime. They try to rebuff the speaker in “vain,” for Whitman’s idea of the sublime appears boundless.

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