When we picture the poets whose work we so often find ourselves pouring over, we tend to picture these great men and women brooding and musing for hours, possibly taking refuge from ran or shine under the low sweeping branches of a large oak tree. We imagine them pondering the meaning of life, the cosmos, birth and death. The reality is far less romantic than we perceive it to be: poets were simply people writing of the world around them. Their world, like ours, was constantly undergoing social and political change that effected their everyday lives in monumental ways. We can therefore expect these influences to permeate the words of numerous great poems. One such work is Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. Although perusing the poem may give the audience the idea that the speaker is simply celebrating his individuality, the formal techniques employed by Whitman in Song of Myself point to a connection between individual liberation, sexual emancipation, and national identity. We can map this argument in many areas of the poem, but most specifically in section 24. His juxtaposition of objects found in nature and the sensual, animal features of the human body, creation of images of man’s plight in the face of adversity, and use of the same repeated exclamation argue the deep connection Whitman found in the shifting world around him between individual liberation and the birth of a great democratic state.
When we picture the poets whose work we so often find ourselves poring over, we tend to picture great men and women brooding and musing for hours, perhaps taking refuge under the low sweeping branches of a large oak tree. They lay there pondering the meaning of life, the cosmos, birth and death. The reality is far less romantic than our imaginations would lead us to believe: poets were simply people writing of the world around them. Their world, like ours, was constantly undergoing social and political change that affected everyday life monumentally. We can expect to see these changes dealt with in the subject matter of many great poems, one such poem being Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. At first read, the poem may give the audience the idea that the speaker is celebrating the importance his personal independence, however, Song of Myself extols the bond between individual liberation and the unity of humanity. Whitman most strongly emphasizes this relationship in section 24. The speaker creates images of his own body, blood, milky streams, eggs, ponds, the sun, sweat, genitals, oak, and fields one after the other, connecting them by literally placing natural terms directly next to features of the human body. This connection between the individual body and the great outdoors develops further because Whitman includes one complete idea in each line; each sentence could stand alone but is understood better in the context of the great, expansive poem. Anaphora draws our attention to the speaker’s urge to break free into the world, giving in to his lustful urges, not only by ripping doors of their hinges and giving his body over to the natural world, but also by listening to a collection of past and present voices. Strong images of slavery, sex, diversity and daybreak call our attention to the dawn of a new era. The overall juxtaposition of sensuality and the natural world, complete sentences, anaphora, and strong imagery present in Whitman’s manifesto Song of Myself describe an unbreakable connection between individualism, sexual freedom, and a united national identity he discovered in the tumultuous early years of our young nation.