Walt Whitman Questions and Answers

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I Sit And Look Out Summary

What is a summary of "I Sit and Look Out" by Walt Whitman?

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Mary Sutton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As the previous educator mentions, the poem is a catalog of all of the cruelties and acts of meanness that human beings inflict upon one another.

Whitman's narrator makes note of the pain of former soldiers ("secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds done"), mothers misused by their children, wives misused by their husbands, the pain of being unloved or of being jealous, and broader suffering—famine, pestilence, and tyranny.

I disagree, however, with the notion that the poem is completely negative. Yes, it contemplates suffering in numerous forms, but it acknowledges the suffering of those who frequently went ignored, such as women and "negroes," who are regarded as victims of the "slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons."

The narrator does not act to alleviate anyone's suffering ("I sit"), but each line begins with an acknowledgement of that suffering—"I hear," "I see," "I mark," and "I observe"—which is the first step toward action.


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sarahc418 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"I Sit and Look Out" is a poem about Walt Whitman regarding the cruelty of human nature and the sins of people. The entire poem has a negative tone, and there are no positive images to be found in any line. The speaker, while observing it all merely "sees," "hears," "marks" and "observes" each atrocity. At the end, he says that he sees "all the meanness and agony without end" and does nothing. The speaker is silent despite all the horrible things in the world. Walt Whitman here conveys the message that one of the most extreme sins is to be a silent onlooker while others are suffering. 

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deedee196 | Student
"I sit and look out" is a poem about modern society. The narrator is looking out of the window at life- and all that he sees is Sorrow, Suffering, Corruption and Degradation of society. The advent of capitalism and industrialization has had a tremendous impact on the moral values of the people who choose to be detailed observers, as echoed in the title. In this poem, Walt Whitman comments on various matters, but passes no judgement. He allows the readers to make their own interpretations without moral impositions. Whitman was a believer in Individiualism. He preferred to trust his own instincts on matters, which is why he leaves judgement to the readers of the poem. The last line of the poem conveys a helplessness and inability to adress these perennial issues. The poem calls for an awakening in the readers minds, so that they do not simply "Sit and Look Out" but take action and find solutions to society's demons (i.e. the problems mentioned in the poem), and to change the world. All the observations were made during the poets time, the 20th century, and sadly the world has not changed since then.