Discussion Topic

Imagery in "Song of Myself."


Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" uses vivid imagery to celebrate individuality and the interconnectedness of all life. He employs natural imagery, such as grass, oceans, and the cosmos, to convey themes of unity and the transcendent nature of the self. This imagery helps readers visualize complex concepts and emphasizes the poem's democratic and inclusive vision.

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What are some imagery examples in "Song of Myself" section one?

Looking just at that opening section that begins Leaves of Grass, we find a lot of sensory language: sing, loafe, and lean all construct an image of the speaker as a bold, expansive, and natural voice, unafraid to enjoy his and other's humanity. Unlike other mid-century earnest laborers, he takes time to lean and observe a "spear of grass" but also observes "creeds and schools in abeyance."

He moves from the abstract "myself" to the microscopic "atom" of his physical body, whose tongue sings this Song of Myself, America. He speaks of his body and his self as being a product of America and constructs a brief genealogy: "Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same."

This section creates a speaker for the poem that is both Walt Whitman and the nation. Both the individual atomic people and the collective "sing" in and through this poem, much as we see in "I Hear America Singing."

The image created is contained in the bodily figure of a male speaker but it transcends that ego to include a far more expansive self. The leisurely language with its alliterative l's sound, long lines, and free verse offer a pacing suitable for the image he projects of himself as well as what he suggests is true of this country. In many ways, Whitman is creating a new type of poetry as well as a new type of poetic identity in this poem, which is highly self-conscious in its choices. The sounds and the voice create a larger visual impression than conventional poetry often uses.

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What are some imagery examples in "Song of Myself" section one?

The first image in this section is an image that will recur through the rest of the poem: "I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass" (5).  The speaker's observance of this "spear" of grass (which is an unusual word--normally, one would say "blade" instead of "spear" of grass) gives him the moment to consider Nature's connection to humanity, because afterward, the speaker comments on how "My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air, / Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same (6-7).  Whitman sees in this one piece of grass the connection of humanity throughout the ages, through generations of people who have come before him and who will come after.  Again, this is a theme that will continue through the poem.

The other image that is consistent throughout the poem is the speaker himself: "I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin" (8).  This poem is like an autobiography of sorts for Whitman, and he is beginning of journey, "Hoping to cease not till death" (9), which is reminiscent of the Transcendentalists.  Through this poem, he hopes to discover something about himself before he dies, and he is hoping that Nature will give him the answers.

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In Section 33 of Song of Myself, what examples of visual and tactile imagery are there?

This section of Whitman's poem is filled with sensory writing; imagery is the most predominant poetic technique found throughout. Many of the visual images are those of nature:

  • "Where the panther walks to and fro on a limb overhead"
  • "Where the buck turns furiously at the hunter"
  • "Where the rattlesnake suns his flabby length on a rock"
  • "Where the alligator in his tough pimples sleeps by the bayou"
  • "Where the beaver pats the mud with his paddle-shaped tail"

The specific details in these lines create the visual images. Here is another excellent example of visual imagery from the poem:

Where cattle stand and shake away flies with the tremulous shuddering of their hides

Not all of the visual images capture scenes from nature; some are domestic, such as those found in this passage:

Where the cheese-cloth hangs in the kitchen, where andirons straddle the hearth-slab, where cobwebs fall in festoons from the rafters;

These images create the interior of farm house kitchen or a cabin.

Tactile imagery in the poem is not developed as frequently, but it is present and effective, as seen in these examples:

  • "Scorch'd ankle-deep by the hot sand, hauling my boat down the shallow river"
  • "The twinges that sting like needles his legs and neck, the murderous buckshot and the bullets"

In these passages, hot sand burns the feet, and a runaway slave feels the physical pain of being shot. 

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