What is the theme of the poem "To A Certain Civilian" by Walt Whitman?

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The dominant theme of "To A Certain Civilian" is willful independence.  Whitman asserts his role as poet to sing and speak primarily for himself:

"Did you find what I sang erewhile so hard to follow?
Why I was not singing erewhile for you to follow, to understand--nor am I now;" (3-5).

Whitman's use of leading questions challenges the reader for an answer, but Whitman actually provides his own response.  In keeping with his theme of independence, he asserts that the reader, the "you" in the poem, should just go satisfy himself with something commonplace, dull, and easily understood.  The final line of the poem reinforces Whitman's independence one last time: "For I lull nobody, and you will never understand me" (10).  "To a Certain Civilian" reads both bold and confrontational; Whitman takes a stand and declares his right to be the kind of poet he wants to be.  In this poem, he answers only to himself.


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