Summary and Analysis: Song of Myself Sections 6-19, lines 99-388


Section 6 presents the first significant transition in the poem and introduces the central symbol in "Song of Myself." A child appears with both hands full of Leaves from the fields and asks the poet, "What is the grass?" The poet at first feels incapable of answering this question but continues thinking about it. He muses that perhaps "the grass is itself a child" or maybe it is "the handkerchief of the Lord." Here the grass is a symbol of the divinity latent in the ordinary, common life of man and it is also a symbol of the continuity inherent in the life-death cycle. No one really dies. Even "the smallest sprout shows there is really no death," that "all goes onward and outward . . . /And to die is different from what any one supposed."

In Section 7 the poet signifies his universal nature, which finds it "just as lucky to die" as to be born. The universal self finds both "the earth good and the stars good." The poet is part of everyone around him. He sees all and condemns nothing.

Sections 8-16 consist of a catalog of all that the poet sees — people of both sexes, all ages, and all conditions, in many different walks of life, in the city and in the country, by the mountain and by the sea. Even animals are included. And the poet not only loves them all, he is part of them all:

And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.

Section 17 again refers to the universality of the poet — his thoughts are "the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands." Sections 18 and 19 salute all members of humanity.

Grass, a central symbol of this epic poem, suggests the divinity of common things. The nature and significance of grass unfold the themes of death and immortality, for grass is symbolic of the ongoing cycle of life present in nature, which assures each man of his immortality. Nature is an emblem of God, for God's eternal presence in it is evident everywhere. Grass is the key to the secrets of man's relationship with the Divine. It indicates that, God is everything and everything is God.

These sections deal with the themes of God, life, death, and nature. Their primary aim is to reveal the nature of the poet's journey through life and the spiritual knowledge which he strives for along the way. They reveal an essential element in a mystical experience — the awakening of the poet's self. "Song of Myself" is a poetical expression of that mystical experience. It arises out of a belief that it is possible to achieve communion with God through contemplation and love, without the medium of human reason. It is a way of attaining knowledge of spiritual truths through intuition. Sections I to 5 concern the poet's entry into a mystical state, while sections 6-16 describe the awakening of the poet's self to his own universality.