From Noon to Starry Night: Summary and Analysis

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Thou Orb Aloft Full-Dazzling - Summary
In this poem, Whitman conveys his impressions of the sun, as he celebrates the “full dazzling” effects it has on him. He sees the sun shining its rays on land and on water, and he writes that he has “always loved” the “illustrious” sun from his youth to the present time. Whitman understands that the sun does not answer his worshipful declarations with words, but he feels that the sun communicates with him in its own way: “sudden breaks and shafts of flame gigantic, / I understand them, I know those flames, those perturbations well.” After praising the sun for sending its “fructifying heat and light” to all lands and waters nationwide, Whitman asks that this orb “shed thyself on mine and me, with but a fleeting ray out of thy million millions.” With just a few of its rays, the sun can “dazzle” the poet and prepare him, by casting “shadows,” for the slow coming of the nighttime.

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To a Locomotive in Winter - Summary
In this poem, Whitman focuses his attention on one specific object for his “recitative”: a locomotive. In the same way that he lists the attributes of the sun (in Thou Orb Aloft Full-Dazzling) or of the work of many Americans (in I Hear America Singing), Whitman describes in full detail the functions of a locomotive “in the driving storm.” He describes the “black cylindric body” from its “head light” to the “train of cars behind.” The locomotive becomes an “emblem of motion and power” for Whitman, indeed an emblem of the “pulse of the continent.” He is enthralled by its strength and beauty. The train comes alive for Whitman as he hears the sounds it emits—“all thy lawless music.” Its “madly whistled laughter” and “trills of shrieks,” which give the locomotive human attributes resonate in the poet’s mind and in his poem as he invites the train to “roll through my chant.”

Mannahatta - Summary
Whitman crowds his poem full of early images of Manhattan. He describes this “island sixteen miles long” as one full of crowds and full of life. Whitman shows city streets filled with a “million people—manners free and superb—open voices—hospitality—the most courageous and friendly young men.” We also see a city enveloped in activity: the “sailships and steamships,” the “houses of business,” the “carts hauling goods,” “the women, the shops and shows.” Even the water around the island, “hurried and sparkling,” cannot rest. In this conglomeration of images, Whitman paints a picture of the city he loves, one he ultimately declares to be “my city!”

Excelsior - Summary
This poem announces a series of questions that the author asks himself one by one. His answers make up the creed that informs his life. In each case, Whitman strives for the extreme—to go the farthest, to be the happiest, to be the kindest, to “receive the passionate love of many friends,” and above all, to be the one most suited to “make joyous hymns for the whole earth.” Whitman is celebrating himself and his belief in his own limitless capabilities. He is also declaring his passion for writing poetry.

Ah Poverties, Wincings, and Sulky Retreats - Summary
This poem presents the poet in a time of crisis, where he faces a variety of “foes” meant to hurt him and his resolve. He is almost overcome by “degradations,” by regret over lost friendships and words wrongly spoken, and by “racking angers.” Yet, he is still optimistic, ever hopeful that he will be the victor, as he retaliates against his various enemies, all figurative:

Ah think not you finally triumph, my real self has yet to come forth,
It shall yet march forth o’ermastering, till all lies beneath me,
It shall yet stand up the soldier of ultimate victory,

His “real self” will overcome and turn away all his negative...

(The entire section contains 1321 words.)

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