Song of Myself

“If you were not breathing and walking here where would they all be?

The most renowned poems would be ashes . . . . orations and plays would be
vacuums.” (60)

Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself is about commemorating and being appreciative of oneself. If you did not exist in this world in order to read, watch, and essentially be part of all these famous poems, speeches, and plays, they would become nothing. They would have no meaning, and become vacuums that suck up dirt. The words Whitman uses, such as “renowned” poems and calling them “vacuums,” especially make these lines interesting to me. Instead of just saying “if people weren’t there to read famous poems, they would become nothing,” he says renowned poems, which illustrates the poems are more celebrated and honored, rather than just being known. Additionally, the vacuum is a metaphor that describes a void and emptiness in a way more precise. These lines relate the the other ideas in the poem because just before this, Whitman writes about government and democracy, the earth, and religion. All these major parts of life don’t exist so that we can serve them, but so they can serve and help us. He also tells us that we are not so much unlike other human beings around us. Whitman’s idea of celebrating oneself and being one with others is one we have also seen in Emerson’s The American Scholar, where Emerson’s key point was to use the individual’s brain to discover truths about oneself and therefore discover truths about the world around us.

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One thought on “Song of Myself

  1. Excellent! I think you really put your finger on it when you say that, for Whitman, it’s about how you use things rather than how you serve them. That is very Emersonian. But, I think Whitman pushes it in a more radical direction . . . after all, if all value is founded in use, then anything can be valuable (if it’s used in the right way) . . . .hence, anybody and everybody is valuable. This is Whitman’s sense of democracy . . .which is more than a political system, more like an ethical code.

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