What Was Whitman Saying?

Topics: Poetry, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson Pages: 3 (932 words) Published: March 3, 2009
"I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world" (Whitman, 74). This famous line from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" is more than just a fun sounding piece of poetry. This line, like Whitman himself, contains multitudes and is indicative of the rest of the poem. Although you can read "Song of Myself" and take it as just a poem and nothing more, you would be missing the meaning behind each word, each stanza. "Song of Myself" is a call to arms, a manifesto, and a portrait of human life all at the same time. "Song of Myself" is not unlike a gift, wrapped up in pretty paper and nice to look at, but what is inside, and the reason behind what is inside, matters most. If the poet is, as Emerson says, the sayer, what is he saying?

In "The Poet" Emerson says, "The poet does not wait for the hero or the sage, but, as they act and think primarily, so he writes primarily what will and must be spoken, reckoning the others, though primaries also, yet, in respect to him, secondaries and servants..." (Emerson). What he means is that while others follow the rule that actions speak louder than words, poets think the opposite. More important than the actions or thoughts of other men, words can describe the depths of the world, can explain the feelings so few can describe. Within "Song of Myself" Whitman tries to do just that, explain and describe the entirety of the world and bring to light the best and worst parts of it.

Whitman has a lot to say on the subject of life and death. "And as to you Death, and you bitter hug or mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me" (Whitman, 72). This line is indicative of Whitman's view of death. Death is not something to fear, it is just the next step of life. If we are not scared of life, we should not be afraid of death. Whitman believed that after we die we become part of the world, the grass, the trees, the animals. Whitman's view of life and death is quite like that of Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism. Whether Whitman heard of...

Cited: Baym, Nina, ed. Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1865-1914.
Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, Incorporated, 2007.
"EMERSON - ESSAYS - THE POET." Virginia Commonwealth University. 24 Feb. 2009 .
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