What are some of the poetic techniques used in the poem "O me! O life!" ?

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jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"O Me! O Life!" is part of Walt Whitman's collection of poems Leaves of Grass.  In "O Me! O life!" Whitman raises an existential question: "What good" can be found in life amid "the endless trains of the faithless" and the "cities fill'd with the foolish"?

The primary poetic technique that Whitman uses in this poem is anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses.   The bulk of the poem consists of phrases that begin with the word "of":

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill'd with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I,
    and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the
    struggle ever renew'd,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see
    around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined

Another technique Whitman uses is alliteration--the repetition of initial consonant sounds.  In lines 2-4, for example, Whitman uses 7 words that start with the letter f: faithless, fill'd, foolish, forever, for, foolish, faithless.  From line 7 to the end of the poem, 4 words start with the letter p: poor, plodding, powerful, play.  It is interesting to note that powerful and play are nearly the opposites of poor and plodding. 

droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass employs a number of identifiable literary devices to convey its message. When analyzing a poem, it can be illustrative to look at the title first. The title of this poem, "O Me! O Life!" is an example of apostrophe, an address to someone or something not present (in this case, to Life, but also to whatever deeper part of "me" the poet is reaching towards). Apostrophe is often indicated by the use of the vocative "O." Interestingly, Whitman repeats this phrase twice in the poem, but uses different punctuation on each occasion. This draws the reader's attention: how is "Oh me! Oh life!" different to "O me, o life?" or the isolated "O me!" towards the end of the poem?

When we see "oh" rather than "O," the phrase appears less of an apostrophe and more of a sighing aside; "O me!" is more intense, and finally, "What good amid these, O me, O life?" is a question, addressed by the speaker to himself, but also to "life."

The structure of the poem is also made cohesive by the use of a form of parallelism, anaphora, where the first few words of successive sentences are repeated. In this poem, we see "Of" at the beginning of almost every line in the main stanza, and then the repetition of "That" in the final, separated two lines of the poem.