Autumn Rivulets: Summary and Analysis

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There Was a Child Went Forth - Summary
The subject of Whitman’s poem is a child growing up. Everything that touches the child’s life is in some way absorbed or remembered by the child: any and all objects “became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, / Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.” Whitman then goes on to list the variety of objects that influence this child and become a part of his identity: flowers, plants, animals, trees, people, landscapes, parents, family traditions, city streets, automobiles, boats, ocean waves, the sky, and the air. Each object in its own way makes an impression upon the young child, who will carry these impressions and experiences with him “every day” that he “goes forth.”

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This Compost - Summary
In this poem, the poet wonders at the change that has overcome him, his changing attitude toward nature. He begins by declaring his uneasiness: “Something startles me where I thought I was safest, / I withdraw from the still woods I loved.” Realizing that there are countless “distemper’d corpses” buried in the earth, the poet believes all the ground to be tainted. Though he cannot see where those dead bodies have been laid to rest, he is sure that if he ploughs the land, he will “expose some of the foul meat.” Yet, he is intrigued that the earth, now a “compost” to him, does not “sicken” itself and reveal the signs of the corpses it contains. Instead, the earth produces grass, flowers, trees, fruits, vegetation, healthy animals, and clean ocean waters. Remarkably, “the winds are really not infectious,” and “when I lie on the grass I do not catch any disease, / Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.” Rather than reassuring the poet, however, this discovery frightens him even more. The earth becomes suspect because it does not reveal its contamination: “Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient, / It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions.” The poet ends on a note of wonder at the earth’s “exquisite winds,” its “harmless and stainless” lands, and its “sumptuous crops” that return regularly. He is in awe of the earth’s ability to give “such divine materials to men,” despite accepting “such leavings from them at last”—despite accepting their corpses when they die.

Unnamed Lands - Summary
As in other poems, Whitman here imagines the people and cultures that have existed before him. Though he does not see evidence of their “cities,” “histories,” or “customs,” he is certain of their lasting influence upon the present: “Not a mark, not a record remains—and yet all remains.” Whitman once again expresses his theories of the interconnectedness between generations of people and nations, past and present. Though “[n]ations ten thousand years before the States, and many times ten thousand years before the States” do not exist any longer and are separated from Whitman by time and space, Whitman does not feel the distance between them: “Afar they stand, yet near to me they stand.” Moreover, Whitman acknowledges their importance: “O I know that those men and women were not for nothing, any more than we are for nothing, / I know that they belong to the scheme of the world every bit as much as we now belong to it.” Not only does the poet believe that the existence of early cultures is connected to his own existence, but he feels that connection to be very real: “I believe of all those men and women that fill’d the unnamed lands, every one exists this hour here or elsewhere, invisible to us.” He knows he will “meet” them in the “yet unseen world.”

The Singer in the Prison - Summary
The poem The Singer in the Prison tells the story of a female singer’s visit to a prison and the subsequent...

(The entire section contains 2427 words.)

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