Analysis of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"

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Walt Whitman was a great poet, journalist and an essayist. He was born in the early 18th century, and hence he was involved in the psychological transition era where people abandoned transcendentalism and adopted realism. He incorporated both ideas in some of his works. He has been referred to as the father of free verse by some of the critics and famous writers due to his popularity in the field of literature. During this era, his work (especially Leaves of Glass) was regarded as controversial and obscene due to the way he addressed matters of sexuality. Besides poetry, he played many roles in building the nation because he had worked as a government clerk, a teacher and a nurse (volunteer) during the time of civil war (Whitman, p.1). Whitman also published his poetry and novel (temperance 1942 and the Leave of Glass in 1855). In this assignment, various critical analysis from different authors of the poem "Song of Myself"will be analyzed and described apparently.

Mark Bauerlein Critique

Mark Bauerlein critically analyzed the poem written by Whitman, and he thinks that the poem is an oratorical emanating from its author (Whiteman) and has persisted till to date. Bauerlein conclusion was drawn from the analysis made in the poem's bibliography. Also, he reviewed critics of the same poem from other authors to find out the number of times the term "voice"or its synonyms were utilized in the titles of the critical papers. He realized that some of the critical analysis of the poem argued for oratory while trying to prove that Whitman had an incomplete dream of becoming a public speaker. Also, the poetry of Whiteman has stylistic devices with patterns that signify oral disclosure.

Bauerlein first observation from the poem is that Whitman exalts speech explicitly at the expense of paraphrasing. Bauerlein highlighted portions of the poem where there was use of speech to stress his argument. He argues that the passages quoted directly from the poem indicate that the author had much trust in the power of unmediated speech. Bauerlein suggested that the author used this style to retain the ability to express self since writing separate an author from both his or her language and the audiences. Therefore, according to Bauerlein, Whiteman was trying to capture the mind of the readers of the poem independently to make them interpret the poem beyond his influence by making it fragmented in idiosyncratic and solipsistic (Bauerlein, p.4). The reason as to why the poet chooses to use the speech was because it is expressed immediately and naturally without regulation or prescription of techniques and hence it is universal to all humans. Therefore, the poet understood that writing exists as a past speech that is remembered for generations and hence this was his primary motive.

The other observation made by Bauerlein was that Whitman utilized imperative and simple present in completion of his work. A section of the verbs has been quoted directly from the poem to the critic. Phrases such as "I celebrate myself"were used to prove that the author was trying to grab as much attention as he could from the readers. Additionally, Bauerlein noted that Whitman employed rhetorical questions, repetitions, parallelism, anaphora and other styles that are commonly used in poems to pass specific message. Bauerlein had the notion that all these styles were applied to make the readers and other audiences of the poem to feel the presence of Whitman. The use of academic terms from various disciplines was intentional and was aimed at portraying the poet as a sophisticated person with ability to amalgamate the community via inspired oration. Also, he was intending to make the audiences of the poem more vicious and imaginative while reading. This would make the audiences to have a better understanding of the poem.

Bauerlein also suggested that discovered the best way in which he could have communicated efficiently was to use preferred signs from oral to pictographic writing styles. Thus, he could be able to let the readers of the poem sense what his face expressed in the course of writing a particular line (without hinting any idea that causes facial expression but with his countenance). Since Whitman uses language with a notation that is not physiognomy, Bauerlein wondered how he conveys his pictographic to the audiences by painting his image on the title page without a signature. He later discovered that Whitman was placing himself at the core of his work such that he could express self in all sorts of reality. It is worth noting that Bauerlein majored in criticizing the manner in which Whitman passed his message in the poem and how the audience was supposed to receive and interpret it.

Robert Hass Critical Analysis

Robert Hass is another author who took an interest in analyzing the work conducted by Whitman in the Song of Myself poem. Hass noted that the poet made various changes in the poem throughout his lifetime that reflected different phases in his life. Some of the phrases that the poet changed were quoted in the critic showing how transition of time and age of the author impacted on the poem. Hass appreciated the work of Whitman stating that it was a part of American history that was embraced by poets in all parts of the world. He also noted that the poem and the time of its publication was somewhat a mystery that has been studied by most of his biographers.

The author of this article suggested that the most extraordinary thing about the poem was the technique used to compose it. The poet used a lot of free verses which was new and still is in the English language. Thus, Hass suggested that Whitman had to come up with a way to form and maintain the new type of formal structure in poetry. He applied musical and journalism qualities in the poem making it appear as if it was borrowed from Hawaii. The poet thought that formulating a poem of the new democratic order had to contain all these features to make it sound neutral as well as have in it the sense of ordinary life in cities.

The author of the article tried to answers the question of the kind of poem Whitman wrote. He suggested that all poets must have a well-established model of what they are trying to do and hence Whitman poem was derived from early English poems that the poet read. He suggested that the poems had the same natural and imaginative qualities regarding the human relations to these powers. Therefore, as Whitman composed his poem, he had the learned poems in mind, or they were a part of his imagination concerning what serious poetry should entail (Folsom p.66). Therefore, since the odes that the poet came along contained only 100 to 200 lines, the work of reviewing the poem over the years by the poet was get rid of errors and ellipses from his poem which was about ten times or so longer than ordinary odes. 

Hass realized that some critics had gone to the extent of analyzing how Whitman found the musical model and the formal development of the poem that resembles the Bible's poems such that of Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah in King James Version. The primary style adopted in the development of the poem was advancing arguments without making any adjustments to the structure of the raised arguments. Thus, the work consists of a lot of disparate ideas expressed as aphorism, repetition, and metaphor. Therefore, the author of this article suggested that song of myself is a romantic poem with prophetic imagination that is structured to fit in the 19th century imagination and language. 

Miller James Critical Analysis

Miller James is another author who was fascinated by the work of Whitman and hence he decided to analyze the poem Song of Myself critically. He began by giving a brief history of the author and the accomplishment made by the poet in the course of his lifetime. He then recognized that the ‘I' or the first person used in the poem is not alone and that the ‘you' is the recipient or the readers of the poem. He describes the first section of the poem as an organic union of Whitman's soul and body which appears initially in the disembodied hum of the valved voice. Thus, in the erotic imagery of the poet's body movements and reactions, a message is passed concerning the God and brotherhood as well as the incomprehensibility of nature.

The author argued that section 5 of the poem prepared the poet for a new type of sophistication while section 6 launched the Whitman on the journey of learning and knowing starting the questions of the child (what is the grass). This line of thinking progress up to section 32 providing adequate occasion for Whitman to develop many of the themes and the subjects addressed in other areas in the Leave of (Grass Miller, p.92). The author of the article suggested that the poet moved from the focus of the grass to the theme of en-masse that is evident starting from section 7 to 16 of the poem. Here, he becomes an ideal person (Whitman) who is roaming in the American continent appreciating each day and celebrating all the scenes of normal daily activities.

Moving away from section 17, Whitman adapts new style of human commonality which is indicated by phrases such as grass that grows where there is land and water. The poet continues to collapse the traditional segregation and discrimination and enjoying slain and conquered individuals along with the victors, righteous and wicked. Miller suggested that the poet concentrated on the equality of both the body and the soul and the manners in which one can rescue the body from the inferior status. Here, the poet turns to self as presented in section 24 of the poem where a nude portrait of the poet provides a catalog and metaphoric of the anatomical features of his body. Miller observed that from section 18 to 32 of the poem the Whitman concentrates more on the erotic dimension of every sense apart from the section 28 where he turns to the miraculous touch. Here, the poet progresses to portray himself in an occasion of sexual arousal that is self-induced to a state of climax where orgasm is experienced. Section 29 of the poem describes how Whitman's tender farewell to complicit touch. The following three sections that is 30 to 32 explore the knowledge acquired from experience for the physical ecstasies where the poet thinks of becoming one with the animals.

The author of the article suggested that the second major phase of the poem begins at section 33 which starts with higher affirmations. Here, the author starts to identify himself more with the outcast and the rejected despite the exalted feeling in the section. The author despair sound is more evident throughout section 34 to 37 until when the poet becomes a beggar with no place to call home. The author of this article suggested that such despair that was not felt during same identifications with the outcasts in section 17 to 20 insinuate that Whitman has progressed beyond the consciousness of his previous phase. The desperate part does not last for long because the poet begins section 38 with rejection of the begging situation and hence setting him back to his journey. He utilizes the story of Jesus on how he suffered via being crucified, died and buried in a rock tomb but rater resurrected to lived in happiness. Hence, the poet becomes confident once more, and this goes all the way from section 39 to 49 of the poem. In between the Whitman discloses all the religious beliefs as well as the role he plays in the evolution theory. Thus, the author of the article concluded that the sources of Whitman's supreme powers were from both science and religious beliefs. The reader of the article is addressed in the sections 51 and 52 of the poem.

Similar to most poems, song of myself has defied the effort to offer a definitive interpretation. In almost every case, the reading of the poem has not clarified the total number of the mysteries. Most critics have provided crucial information regarding the poem by concentration on one or two matters, but Miller decided to analyze all the chapters of the poem systematically critically. Miller acknowledges the work of other critics such as Richard Chases and Ralph Waldo at the end of his criticism.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Critical Analysis

Another author decided to focus on the themes of the poem, and he suggested that there are three critical messages passed by the poet and they include the idea of the self, the relationship of the poet with the elements of the universe and nature as well as identification of the self with other selves. The author of the article also mentioned that the rooms and the houses referred to in the poem were representing civilization and the named perfumes were signifying the individual selves. Also, the atmosphere was representing the universe. Each self is portrayed as a spiritual being that remained permanently via the fluctuating flux of thoughts as well as experiences in the conscious life (Shahane, p.1). It consisted of psychological state, experiences spiritual interventions and ideas. Thus, the author concluded that the concept of self as being the center of Whitman's art and mind.

Consequently, he suggested that Whitman the self-was the universes and individuals at the same time. He exclaimed that the poet had wished to maintain his individual's identity as well as merging it with that of the universe, which entailed the identification of Whitman with the humanity as well as mystical powers of the God. The author also addressed the sexual union that is portrayed in the poem and suggested that it was a figurative expectation of spiritual companion. Thus, he concluded that the poet roamed in both the spiritual and physical world developing a sense of love and brotherhood of humankind with their superior powers (God).

Additionally, the author of this article criticized the stylistic devices that the poet utilized in the composition of the poem. He suggested that Whitman's techniques amplified his individualism. The words and phrases used by the poet consist both spiritual and natural significance as evidenced by the use of numerous colloquial expression in his texts. Also, the author noted the catalog technique in the poem as being crucial to the poet and the poem. He suggested that the poet utilized a lot of images drawn from the nature to amplify the poetic ideas of Whitman. The author concluded that the pictures used did not have organization due to the components of spiritual concepts that gave the coherence and meaning that clearly disconnected the images from the actual scene implied.     


The Whitman's poem played a major role in guiding most poets in the 20th century due to his innovation of utilization of free verses, a style that is not common in the English language. Also, the manner in which he addresses matters in the poem instills confidence in poets and journalists who would wish to discuss delicate matters. This is because Whitman addressed sexuality in a controversial and did not hesitate to publish his article. Also, a lot of people have developed their criticizing techniques because poem had various angles of arguments which have made it to be criticized by most writers especially in the late 20th century. Whitman withstands as a creative and imaginative poet for a long time since very few poems has the quality evident in the Song of Myself. Different authors who have analyzed this poem has only provided a fantastic conclusion about the styles used or the themes being passed in the poem. Even the ones that have investigated the poem section by section, they indicated that the poem had coherence that allowed the flow of ideas in the mind of the readers. Very few negative comments have been given concerning the poem. Therefore, the poem has been used for scholarly purposes over the years, and some people had written dissertations about it and passed due to vast of ideas in it that one can draw. The natural and spiritual aspects of the poem have made different people argue differently concerning the primary purpose of the poet as well as the message he was trying to pass along. This is stressed by the idea that he made some changes in the poem throughout his life.


Bauerlein, Mark. "The Written Orator of"Song of Myself": A Recent Trend in Whitman Criticism."Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 3.3 (2012): 1.

Folsom, Ed. "Hass, Robert, ed., Walt Whitman, Song of Myself and Other Poems, and CK Williams, On Whitman."Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 28.1 (2010): 65-68.

Shahane, Vasant Anant. CliffsNotes on Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1972.

Miller, James E. "Whitman Then and Now: A Reminiscence."Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 8.2 (1990): 92.

Whitman, Walt. Song of myself. Courier Corporation, 2001.

December 12, 2023



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