Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Walt Whitman wrote "Song of Myself" in 1855. The poem was inspired by an idea, by a kind of joyous vision of life. The idea was something like this: that he, Walt Whitman, and everyone else, once a part of life, were eternally connected to the rest of life; that he and everyone else were in fact life itself, and so everywhere and in everything and in everyone, seeing and hearing and feeling and understanding everything. The vision is very grand and difficult and abstract. But the poem that the vision inspired isn't difficult and abstract. That is because "Song of Myself" isn't so much an explanation of Whitman's idea so much as it is a poetic celebration. It is like an exuberant inventory of the world (and so of Walt Whitman) in which he congratulates and praises all the parts of life in great detail, and all just for existing. (Koch 37)


- an exuberant inventory of the human experience extending through time and space to any concrete image which can be captured in language
- opening poetry to experiences from every walk of life: the common man’s life is celebrated not simply the refined elitist sense of beauty reserved to the intellectual establishment
- Manifest Destiny: a confident, jubilant expression of the new, democratic vision of human nature and the human potential
- the first great poet of the American city: New York City


- breaking open the poetic line to include “un-poetic” slang
- long lines inspired by verbal expression from the common man’s life
- the political oratory of the street corner, the sermons from the pulpit, the long, sonorous lines from the King James version of the Bible, the call of street peddlers and stevedores, the arias of Italian operas
- ideas connected in free association, a non-logical, intuitive style which suggests a poetic vision beyond reason. To understand his poems, the individual reader must use his or her own imagination and reach for a “transcendental” understanding of the divine