Walt Whitman

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What is the meaning of sections 12, 17, and 32 of Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself"?

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Below, you'll find basic explanations for sections 12, 17, and 32 of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself."

12: this section describes the movements of both a butcher boy (217-18) and a group of blacksmiths (219-24). Though the images seem random, they function as one of the poem's many "slice of life" sequences. These sections, which generally focus on seemingly random scenes from everyday life, seek to capture the beauty of ordinary existence. Thus, Whitman transforms the ordinary movement of the butcher boy and the blacksmiths into a dignified, poetic occasion.

17: this short section promotes the universality of Whitman's poetic message. Whitman says "These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands" (355), and in making this statement, he asserts that "Song of Myself" taps into a universal experience of the self that is relevant for all times and for all peoples. The description of a universal human experience is one of Whitman's primary poetic goals. 

32: Whitman begins this section by contrasting the peace of animals with the anxiety of human society, thus illustrating the latter's absurdity. Then, he transitions into a specific description of taming a wild stallion, only to assert that he can "out-gallop" (708) the noble beast. In that case, though Whitman acknowledges the folly of human society in comparison to the peace of the animal world, he still asserts the supremacy of the human individual.    

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