I Sit and Look Out

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In the poem, Whitman describes various people suffering horrible misery in different forms. However, as he describes them, he doesn't judge, get involved, make commentary, or pass some sort of overall moral or lesson to be learned.  This is what he means when he says he is "silent".  He simply opens a window for everyone to see what he sees, and lets the reader make their own interpretations and judgments.  For example, he describes the misery that exists, "the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love attempted to be hid," and doesn't comment on how awful that is, or what we should learn from it, or how we should change the misery; his next line is simply, "I see these sights on the earth".  No moral imposition, no call to action.  He is simply reporting what he sees.  That is the silence he is referring to, a silence of judgment or analysis on the events. Whitman, a great believer of individualism and trusting your own instincts to interpret the world, probably wanted to let the reader trust his or her own instincts, and to feel whatever they felt, without him telling them how to feel about it.  This fits the theme of individualism well, a movement that Whitman was a part of.

The poems that Walt Whitman wrote in the second half of the 19th century differed radically from his earlier ones. The advent of capitalism had a tremendous impact on the lives of the people. In the manipulative and calculative rat race, principles were relegated and human concerns sidelined. People in such a situation, in response to the misery and atrocities around turned a detached observer as echoed in the title “I Sit and Look Out”. The verb in the title ‘sit’ and its capitalization in the first line –is an attempt to underline the action of the onlooker. It implies that the speaker is idle and has not intention to do anything about the situation. Also, the idea of looking out highlights how he is in the confinement of complacency and is far removed from the suffering multitudes....
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