One of the major poems of the collection, Song of Myself, is divided into 52 separate sections and is comprised of 1,346 lines. In Song of Myself, Whitman pays tribute to himself and his readers (“I celebrate myself and sing myself…”) as he depicts the physical, emotional, and spiritual world around him. The poem begins with Whitman describing himself as he “loafes” or relaxes contentedly, “observing a spear of summer grass.” The poet delights in his environment, fully appreciating the sights, sounds, and smells that surround him. He tells his readers that in spite of the difficulties and distress human beings experience, the world and all life is, and always will be, perfect. Hard times are always temporary, the poet says, and “they are not me myself.” Whitman goes on to urge his readers to “loafe with me on the grass” so that they might fully appreciate their own lives and the world around them.
In the next major section of the poem, Whitman describes a colorful array of people—from happy children and young lovers to wagon drivers, blacksmiths, escaped slaves, and desperate, lonely adults—with equal appreciation and passion. He goes on to portray hunters, deacons, machinists, drunkards, reporters, dancers, parents, prostitutes, pedlars, the President, brides, and “opium-eaters.” Whitman then asserts that he is as much a part of all people as they are of him. Even his thoughts, he claims, “are not original with me.” He then ponders the meaning of his own and his readers’ lives (“What is a man anyhow? what am I? what are you?”), eventually deciding:
I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
In Section 24, the poet calls himself a “kosmos.” Whitman says he is part of everyone and all things, and he declares “Whoever degrades another degrades me.”
Next, Whitman continues his appreciation of ordinary pleasures, from a glorious sunrise to a single flower. He tells us that he “will do nothing but listen,” and he goes on to list the many sounds he loves, including emotional music, the human voice, and even harsh city sounds such as “alarm bells” and “the cry of fire.”
Continuing his exploration of the mystical connection between all things, Whitman, in Section 31, returns to the central image of the entire collection when he writes:
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the/stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren…
The poet then discusses the physical beauty and contentment of animals. He goes on to list and celebrate a great variety of animals, objects, people, emotions, and events. In Section 34, Whitman relates the terrible story of a company of Texan soldiers who were massacred by the Mexican army in 1836. Then, in stirring detail, he describes a battle at sea between two warships.
In Section 43, Whitman discusses faith and religion. He tells us:
My faith is the greatest of faiths and the least of faiths,
Enclosing worship ancient and modern and all between ancient and modern,
Believing I shall come again upon the earth after five thousand years…
He continues his discussion of God and spirituality as he concludes the poem. In Section 44, Whitman says that it is “time to explain myself,” and in Section 48, he tells us:
I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Whitman concludes his long exploration of life and the universe by comparing himself to a spotted hawk:
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
In the poem’s final lines, Whitman urges his readers to search for the truth and to keep exploring his words, even if their meaning is unclear...
(The entire section contains 1189 words.)
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