One’s-Self I Sing - Summary
Inscriptions begins with the poem One’s-Self I Sing, a celebration of “The Modern Man.” Whitman begins by declaring: “One’s-Self I sing, a simple separate person,/Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.” He continues his salute to both men and women (“the female equally with the male I sing”), and he describes human life as “immense in passion, pulse, and power.”
In Cabin’d Ships at Sea - Summary
Whitman depicts a sailing ship at sea (“joyous full of faith, spreading white sails”), and then goes on to compare his book of poems to a ship, calling it “a lone bark cleaving the ether …,” and his readers mariners on a journey. The poet then urges his book to fulfill its destiny to carry its message around the world “o’er the boundless blue from me to every/sea …” Whitman dedicates this poem or “song” to his readers or “mariners and all their ships” and declares his love for them: “dear mariners, for you I fold it here in every leaf.”
To Foreign Lands - Summary
In this brief poem, Whitman declares his intention to use his poetry to describe and define America to the people of other countries:
I heard that you asked for something to prove this puzzle the New World,
And to define America, her athletic Democracy,
Therefore, I send you my poems that you behold in them what you wanted.
Eidolons - Summary
A major poem of the Inscriptions section, Eidolons expresses the poet’s conception of life’s “true realities” or eidolons (also described as “phantoms”) that represent the ultimate truth of every aspect of human existence.
Beyond the lectures learn’d professor,
Beyond thy telescope or spectroscope observer keen, beyond all mathematics,
Beyond the doctor’s surgery, anatomy, beyond the chemist with his chemistry,
The entities of entities, eidolons.
These true realities are a part of every person, emotion, and endeavor; they are also the essence of “infinite oceans,” “vanish’d lands,” “mountains, soils, rocks, giant trees,” and the entire universe.
Ever shall be, ever have been and are,
Sweeping the present to the infinite future,
Eidolons, eidolons, eidolons.
I Hear America Singing - Summary
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong…
Here Whitman celebrates America, its people, and his vision of a new, democratic nation. The poet offers an exuberant litany of the country’s working people, including masons, carpenters, mechanics, woodcutters, ploughboys, mothers, and young wives—all “singing with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.”
Shut Not Your Doors - Summary
Whitman, understanding that some readers might consider his highly original work offensive, anticipates their negative reactions to his book. However, he believes that his message is important. The poet asks that his poems not be censored or excluded from libraries or from readers’ shelves.
Shut not your doors to me proud libraries
For that which was lacking on all your well-filled shelves, yet needed most, I bring…
Thou Reader - Summary
Whitman concludes “Inscriptions” with the briefest poem of this opening section. In it, he salutes his readers and offers them this simple dedication:
Thou reader throbbest life and pride and love the same as I,
Therefore for thee the following chants.
Here Whitman also identifies himself with his readers, recognizing their shared experiences and emotions.
The main body of Leaves of Grass follows, beginning with Starting from Paumonok.
Analysis of Inscriptions
Inscriptions is Whitman’s introduction to Leaves of Grass . There are 24, mostly shorter, poems included in this section, many of them dedicated to America and its people. At the outset of his epic work, Whitman not only makes clear his...
(The entire section contains 939 words.)
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