Individual Longer Poems: Summary and Analysis

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Song of the Open Road - Summary
Whitman extends an invitation to the reader to travel with him, spiritually and literally, and he will lead by example. The opening lines of the poem celebrate both the options that lie before Whitman and the length and breadth of the continent: “The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.” Whitman finds all he needs (“The earth, that is sufficient”) in these possibilities, as he begins to walk on the road. He imagines all who have traveled the same path before him, believing “that much is also unseen here.” Not only is there the physical path of the road for the traveler to behold, but the road is full of the “unseen existences” or “spirits” of those who have passed before Whitman. He feels the presence of all these people.

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The road speaks to Whitman, and he imagines that it makes several statements to him in order to keep him traveling. Whitman wonders if the road implores him not to leave it; he imagines the road advising him not to “venture” off its path. He hears the voice of the road declaring that it is “prepared” and “well-beaten,” and thus ready for Whitman to “adhere” to his journey. Whitman then reassures the road that he will not abandon it, for he has the utmost respect for it: “You express me better than I can express myself, / You shall be more to me than my poem.”

The road encourages Whitman to shed the “limits” he places on himself, to become his “own master total and absolute,” and to commence “divesting [him]self of the holds that would hold [him].” Once Whitman can shed these constraints, he can embrace untold possibilities: “I am larger, better than I thought, / I did not know I held so much goodness.” The road teaches him about himself. He also learns “the secret of making the best persons,” which involves a respect for and love of nature: “to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.” Moreover, the road reveals a true “test of wisdom.” Out on the road, one can realize that “Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof.”

The road (and the experience of traveling it) encourages journeyers to think hard about themselves and to come to an understanding about their potential: “Here is realization, / Here is a man tallied—he realizes here what he has in him.” And because “here is happiness” as well, Whitman extends an invitation to the reader to join him: “Allons! whoever you are come travel with me! / Traveling with me you will find what never tires.” Whitman tells his fellow traveler that they must keep moving, forever on the path of the road, and they must be able to endure the trip and “bring courage and health.” Whitman is honest with the traveler when he explains that they will not find “what is call’d riches” or material wealth. Instead, the constant motion of the journey itself will be the reward.

Together, the reader and Whitman will follow in the path of previous “Enjoyers,” “Trusters,” and “Journeyers” in traveling “to that which is endless as it was beginningless.” Whitman asks his fellow travelers to trust in him, for his “own feet have tried” the road and proved it safe to travel. He invites the traveler to respond to his “call of battle” and to join him right away. As if to further convince his followers to come along, Whitman ends the poem with a series of questions, to which the reader is encouraged to reply affirmatively.

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry - Summary
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, one of Whitman’s best loved poems, celebrates the magnificence of Brooklyn and Manhattan, in particular, and the beauty of nature as well as the transcendence of humans, in general. Whitman begins to describe his impressions as his ferry crosses the water to the island of Manhattan. He...

(The entire section contains 2593 words.)

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Whispers of Heavenly Death and Songs of Parting: Summary and Analysis