Walt Whitman Questions and Answers

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What is the main theme of the poem, "I Sit and Look Out," and what is the poet trying to tell us?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The main theme or message of Whitman's "I Sit and Look Out" is that it is not enough to witness the horror, suffering, and pain of the world: every person who can needs to do something about it. The poet is trying to tell us it is wrong simply to observe suffering. He is attempting to make us impatient with the speaker, who sits, sees, and does nothing.

The speaker knows that the world is filled with "sorrow," "oppression," and "shame." He catalogues some of the troubles he is aware of: men filled with remorse for wrong they've done, women neglected by their children and left to die, spousal abuse, war, disease, tyranny, famine, slavery, and degradation.

Yet the poem ends on the word "silent": the speaker says nothing. If we feel frustration with the speaker for...

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Summary: I Sit and Look Out By Walt Whitman is where Whitman is the narrator of the poem, he sees everything that is bad with the world but does says he does nothing to fix it.

Section One:

  • Whitman remarking about the "sorrows, oppression, and shame" that is in the world
  • The following are stated as either a sorrow, oppression, or shame
    • Men that cry in secret after doing something wrong
    • Mother misused by her children, that is dying, neglected, desperate
    • Wife misused by husband
    • Seducer that goes for young women
    • Jealousy, love not returned
    • War, sickness, prisoners, martyrs, and tyranny
    • Sailors that kill some to save the others that are dying of famine(no food)
    • The people that think they are better than others - in particular laborers , poor, black people, etc
  • All of the observations seem to have no end, but he hears and sees it all but does nothing

Other Notes:

  • The first problems are individual , while the second set of problems problems (societal)