What does Whitman mean by "myself"? Is it personal egotism or faith in the significance, even divinity, of the "common man"?

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litchick2011 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this poem Whitman seems to put himself in the center, but the "self" of the poem's speaker - the "I" of the poem is farm more expansive. "I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-washed babe .... and am not contained between my hat and boots" (section 7). The "I" of the poem is not one man, but rather a microcosm of mankind. 

There are several other quotes from the poem that make it apparent that Whitman does not see himself as the voice of one individual. Rather, he seems to be speaking for all:

“in all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less/and the good or bad I say of myself I say of them” (Section 20)

“it is you talking just as much as myself…I act as the tongue of you” (Section 47)

“I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Section 51)

“For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” (Section 1)

"My faith is the greatest of faiths and the least of faiths,
Enclosing worship ancient and modern and all between ancient and modern,
Believing I shall come again upon the earth after five thousand years…" (Section 43)