Leaves of Grass By Walt Whitman Summary and Analysis: Song of Myself"" Sections 1-5, lines 1-98

This poem celebrates the poet's self, but, while the "I" is the poet himself, it is, at the same time, universalized. The poet will "sing myself," but "what I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you." The poet loafs on the grass and invites his soul to appear. He relates that he was "form'd from this soil," for he was born here, as were his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. He is thirtyseven years old and "in perfect health." He hopes to continue his celebration of self until his death. He will let nature speak without check with original energy."

In section 2, the self, asserting its identity, declares its separateness from civilization and its closeness to nature. "Houses and rooms are full of perfume," Whitman says. "Perfumes" are symbols of other individual selves; but outdoors, the earth's atmosphere denotes the universal self. The poet is tempted to let himself be submerged by other individual selves, but he is determined to maintain his individuality.

The poet expresses the joy he feels through his senses. He is enthralled by the ecstasy of his physical sensations. He can enjoy each of the five senses — tasting, hearing, smelling, touching, and seeing-and even more — the process of breathing, the beating of his heart, and "the feeling of health." He invites the reader to "stop this day and night" with him in order to discover "the origin of all poems."

In the third and fourth sections, Whitman chides the "talkers," "trippers," and "askers" for wasting their time discussing "the beginning and the end," and "the latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies . . . More important is the eternal procreant urge of the world." He prepares himself for the union of his body with his soul: "I witness and wait." As his soul is "clear and sweet," so are all the other parts of his body -and everyone's bodies. "Not an inch . . . is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest."

Section 5 is the poet's ecstatic revelation of union with his soul. He has a feeling of fraternity and oneness with God and his fellowmen ("And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own/And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own") and a vision of love ("And . . . a kelson [an important structural part of a ship] of the creation is love"). This union brings him peace and joy.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

How did the American transcendental poets, such as Whitman, explain the findings of contemporary science?




Quiz