Elements on which you will want to focus:
- Free verse
- Spirituality & Faith
Whitman's verse reads off the page, literally. It's longer than a 8.5" page can hold. Most poems are squares. His are head-long longways. Each line is a celebration. The style is obviously free verse, but freer verse than any free verse that's ever been free, which is to say that it redefined free verse. No one else has been able to duplicate it or match it headlongedness, its sheer joy, its celebration.
His style is very meta-. It references itself obviously ("Song of Myself"), but not the way most meta-poems do, which is intellectually. Yes, it is intellectual, but it mainly self-references emotionally. It bubbles over and lets you know it's bubbling over and then lets you know that it knows you know it's bubbling over.
So says the Enotes editor:
In “Song of Myself,” this large self continually floods into and interpenetrates the small, personal self, including the physical body, and becomes one with it. It is this union of the absolute self with the relative self that allows the persona of the poem to express such spontaneous delight in the simple experience of being alive in the flesh. “I loafe and invite my soul,/ I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass,” announces the persona in the very first section of the poem. This is a state of being that does not have to perform any actions to experience fulfillment; it simply enjoys being what it is: “I exist as I am, that is enough,/ If no other in the world be aware I sit content,/ And if each and all be aware I sit content.”
The poem is optimistic to the -nth degree. It lacks a sense of evil. I mean this in a good way: it lacks all Realism (the kind of brooding sense of shame Realism that Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Faulkner, O'Connor, and Eliot write about). It's a tradition of its own. Not even followers like Langston Hughes are as positive and, in a way, innocent of man's capacity for evil. Man is all good according to Whitman. Ironically, his cosmology is not in denial and it doesn't exclude God. It embraces everyone and everything, which is very God-like.
Again, Enotes editor:
The bard of the poem, speaking in the oracular tones of the prophet, affirms the divinity and sacredness of the entire universe, including the human body, and he asserts that no part of the universe is separate from himself—he flows into all things and is all things.
His metaphors and imagery are so interconnected with the self and nature that it's problematic in distinguishing the four from each other. He amalgamates all four into one giant living organism. It's as if a person is a nature is a poem. Like grass, which can grown nearly everywhere there is human life, his poetry can attach itself and thrive--very organic. The reader doesn't realize that s/he is reading a poem with obvious metaphors and imagery because they are in the background (the self and nature so in the foreground).