Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study

Walt Whitman's Poetry-Silent Features


Walt Whitman's Poetry A Thematic Study

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study

Walt Whitman’s POetry-A Thematic Study



Menonim Menonimus





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Walt Whitman’s Poetry- A Thematic Study, A Collection of Critical Essays on Walt Whitman’s Poetry by Menonim Menonimus.

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study


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Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study




Late Ataur Rahman

My Elementary Teacher

Who taught me the Basic Lessons of life

— Menonim Menonimus


Walt Whitman’s Poetry–A Thematics Study



  1. Theme of Death in Walt Whitman’s Poetry
  2. Theme of Sex and Love in Walt Whitman’s Poetry
  3. Mystic Note in Walt Whitman’s Poetry
  4. Theme of Democracy in Walt Whitman’s Poetry
  5. Problem of Structure in Walt Whitman’s Poetry
  6. Style of Walt Whitman’s Poetry
  7. Egotism in Walt Whitman’s Poetry
  8. Symbolism in Walt Whitman’s Poetry
  9. Note of Optimism in Walt Whitman’s Poetry





The Theme of Death in Walt Whitman’s Poetry

‘Death’ means the end of life. To say explicitly that Death is the final cessation of vital function in an organism. On the theme of death, many poets of the world have written many poems. But in America once there were two great poets: one was Emily Dickinson and the other was Walt Whitman, who had written a good deal of poetry on the theme of death.  In the poems dealing with the theme of death, Walt Whitman took death not as an end of life, but as a beginning of new life not on this earth but somewhere else. In other words, Death for him was a door or a means through which the soul of a being goes on to join the Divine Soul in heaven. Thus to Whitman, Death was the gateway to achieving immortality. He had written some elegies, the theme of which was death, but in those elegies, he never cursed death but glorified it though there was a touch of pathos and gloominess.

There are many references to death in his great poem entitled ‘Song of Myself’. In section 6 of the poem, he says that there is no death of any soul—it only journeys to another world where the soul gets a new life and live their happily. He says:

”And what do you think has become of the woman and children?

They are alive and well somewhere 

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death

And if ever there was, it leads forward life.”

In section 7 of the same poem, the poet says that who dies is luckier as one who takes birth.

”Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born 

I hasten to inform him or her, 

It is just as lucky to die and I know it.”

In section 49 of the same poem, he defies death and wants to imply that he is never afraid of death, as—

”And as to you, death and you bitter hug 

of mortality, it is idle to alarm me.”

The poet never suspects death. He thinks that death is good to everybody as it leads to immortality. He says:

”Do you suspect death. If I were to suspect death I should die now.

Do you think I could walk pleasantly 

and well-suited I walk,

Whither I walk I cannot define 

But I know it is good.”

The poet thinks in the poem ‘To Think of Time’ that nothing of this universe meets a fatal end, but only changes the physical form and achieves immortality. He says:

”I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!

That the exquisite scheme for it, and 

the nebulous float is for it, and the co-herring is for it!

All preparation is for it—and identity 

is for it—and life and materials are altogether for it.”

The poet rightly thinks that it is the spiritual journey from this world to another world where the human soul unites with the Divine Soul. In one poem he says:

”And I will show that whatever happens to 

anybody, it may be turned to beautiful 

results—and I will show that nothing 

happens more beautiful than death.”

There are some elegies written by him as- ‘Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking’, ‘When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloomed’, ‘O Captain, O Captain’, ‘Come up from the Fields Father’, ‘Dirge for Two Veterans’ and some others—where he has lamented over death. But the lamentation does not mean that he curses death, instead, he consoles that death has led the person to heaven to live a better life there.

In many poems written in an elegiac tone, the poet has used many symbols to represent death, such as—lilies, lilac, stars, roses, thrush, the sun, the moon etc.

From the above analysis, we come to know that Walt Whitman was a death-conscious poet, who took death, not as the ending of life but as a means of achieving immortality. 0 0 0

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study 

The Theme of Sex and Love in Walt Whitman’s Poetry

Walt Whitman was a great poet of America. He wrote poetry on a variety of themes among which the theme of sex and love is an outstanding one that catches the passionate attention of his readers. His sense and philosophy of sex and love are natural, wild, violent, wayward, spontaneous, frank, amorous, naked, blind and mystical. In other words, to say, his sense of love and sex, as he displays in his poetry, is inhumane, immoral, illegal, unsocial, irreligious and illogical in a civilized society. Let us examine the theme of sex and love as treated in his poetry.

In the poem entitled ‘Native Moments’ he desires ‘libidinous joy’ and wants to go consort with nature’s darlings—because he believes in ‘loose delight’ in nature and desires to share ‘the midnight orgies of young men’ as a homosexual. He says:-

”Give me now libidinous joy only


I am for those who believe in loose delights, 

I share the midnight orgies of young men


He shall be lawless, rude illiterate,

He shall be one condemned by others for deeds done.”

In the poem ‘Once I passed Through a Populous City’ he says that he loves her who is amorous, ‘passionately clung’ to him. He wanders with that passionate lady, plays an amorous love game and then separates each other. In his own words:

”Once I passed through a populous city


Yet now for all that city I remember 

Only a woman I casually met there 

Who detained me for love of me.


I remember I say only that woman 

Who passionately clung to me,

Again we wander, we love, we separate again.

And again she holds me by the hand,

I must not go,

I see her close beside me with silent 

Lips sad and tremulous.”

In the ‘Song of Myself’ (No-32) he desires to live wildlife with animals—because he thinks that animals are placid and self-contained. In his words:

”I think I could turn and live with animals, 

they are so placid and self contained.”

The poem entitled ‘A Woman Waits for Me’ is another poem that reflects almost all his sense of sex and love. In the poem, he says that a woman, who is amorous, gives the poet everything. He says:

”A woman waits for me, she contains all, 

Nothing is lacking,

Yet all were lacking, if sex were lacking.”

In the same poem he emphasizes the sense of sex so much that he deliberately reveals:

”Sex contains all, bodies, souls


All hopes ….. loves, beauties, delights of the earth.”

In the same poem, he says that he loves a sexually active woman. He desires the company of those women who are warm-blooded. In his own words:

”Now I will dismiss myself from impressive women,

I will go stay with her, who waits for me, 

And with those women that are warm-

blooded and sufficient for me.”

In the matter of love, he is always amorous and in the description of sexual relationships with women, he is naked, frank and indecent. In the same poem he says:

”I draw you close to me, you women,

I cannot let you go, I would do you good,

I am for you, and you are for me, not only 

for our own sake, but for others sake.”

In the same poem, he says that sexual love is necessary to keep human civilization living on earth. He openly says:

”I am stern, acrid, large, understandable, but I love you

I don’t hurt you anymore than is necessary for you.

I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for this states, 

I press with slow rude muscles.”

Certainly, the above quoted lines are highly amorous that reveal how sexual intercourse is done with a woman.

In the poem entitled ‘The Sleepers,’ the poet speaks that he likes darkness because in dark he is safe and sound to have sexual acts with his beloved. He says:

”My truant lover has come and it is dark.

Double yourself and receive me darkness.

Receive me and my lover too, he will 

not let me go without him.”

In the same poem, the poet says how the married couple sleeps in their bed. The description is highly passionate and frank:

”The married couples sleep calmly in 

their bed, he with his palm on the 

hip of the wife and she with her palm 

on the hip of the husband.”

In the poem ‘Song of Myself’ he expresses that the power of sexual love has been bestowed upon him by Earth (Nature) and Earth has loved the poet very generously. In his own words:

”Smile for your lover comes

Prodigal you have given me love—

Therefore I to give you love!

O unspeakable passionate love.”

The poet loves a man as well as a woman, but the poet advocates that woman is greater because she has sex organs for which she can give birth to children. In the words of the poet himself:

”I am the poet of the woman as the same as the man.

And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,

And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.”

The poet’s sexual love is confined not to women only, but also to men. He thinks that the human body—either woman or man—is sacred. In the poem ”I sing the Body Electric” he says:

”Have you ever loved the body of women?

Have you ever loved the body of a man?

If anything is sacred the human body is sacred.”

Again in another poem, the poet expresses the same philosophy that in the matter of sexual love there is no shame to love either a man or a woman. He says:

”Without shame the man I like knows and 

avows the deliciousness of his sex

without shame the woman 

I like knows and avows hers.” (A woman waits for me)

The poet is so free and frank in matters of love and sex that he can create spontaneous phrases and images to describe the sexual thoughts and feelings which arouse amour. He writes in the poem, ‘Spontaneous Me’:

”Love thoughts, love juice, love odor, 

love-yielding, love climbers and climbing sap,

Arms and hands of love, lips of love, 

phallic thump of love, breasts of love.”

In the ‘Songs of Myself, Section-11’ he describes the desire of a lovesome lady for the twenty-eight young men who are bathing naked in the sea one morning. The poet reveals that perhaps the lady likes that man who is the ‘homeliest’:

”Which of the young men does she like the best?

Ah, the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.”

Sometimes the poet’s sense of love becomes mystical. He says that he has received a mystical experience with the Oversoul at night in his bed.

”I am satisfied—I see, dance, laugh, sing

As hugging and loving, Bed follow sleeps 

at my side through the night and 

withdraws at the peep of the day,

With stealthy tread………….”

From the above illustration, it has come to our clarification that Walt Whitman’s philosophy of love and sex is natural, wild, violent, wayward, spontaneous, amorous, naked, blind, and mystic. In other words, his sense of love and sex in a civilized human society is inhumane, immoral, illegal, unsocial, irreligious, and illogical.

But here to refute that, while he had to delineate his sense of love and sex in his poetry, he forgot to be a member of a civilized human society and thought himself to be a wild being in Nature. He depicts his instinctive desire for love and sex without feeling any social responsibility. To live a peaceful, ordered and civilized life in society everybody must keep his instinctive desires under control and enjoy them through logical restriction. Otherwise, a peaceful social life would be impossible. Walt Whitman in his personal life, in matters of love and sex, was loose, amorous, violent, and wayward as he has portrayed in his poetry and for this, he had suffered much in life at the hand of society and often he was accused of being a father of about half a dozen illegitimate children and once he was driven away from his government job and his long poem, ‘The Song of Myself’ was proscribed by the church officials.  0 0 0

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study 

Mystic Note in Walt Whitman’s Poetry

Generally, the word ‘Mystic’ denotes something obscure or hidden. But when it becomes an ‘ism’ in literature and scripture it refers to some spiritual doctrine that believes that there is only one immortal supreme or central soul which expresses itself through the objects of Nature and a human soul can make a spiritual communication with the Supreme Soul not physically but spiritually, not intellectually but through belief under some conditions such as—purgation of sin, temperate way of living, i.e. mortification or conquering of the senses or physical appetites and meditation on God. In other words, a mystic is he who believes: in only one Divine Soul (the soul of God), in the immortality of the soul with its all-pervading nature of it, and in the capacity of the human soul to make a communication with the Divine Soul. Mysticism is the highest stage of spiritual or religious thoughts. In Indian scriptures, there is an ample allusion to this mysticism and the ancient Indian sages claimed to have mystic experiences. But in modern times especially during the Romantic Era of English Literature, ‘mysticism’ came to be used as a literary term and many romantic poets had written poetry on the mystic theme. In America, some poets and philosophers created poetry on mystic themes. Amongst them, the name of Ralf Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are worth mentioning. Being influenced by the English romantic poets, the Hindu Scriptures, and Emerson’s writings, Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892) composed many poems on mystic themes. So a strong note of mysticism is present in the bulk of Walt Whitman’s poetry. Like a true mystic, he believes that there is one Supreme Soul (God) which expresses itself through the objects of Nature and a human can make a communication with the Divine Soul and thus both the soul can be united together. But Walt Whitman’s notion of a mystic union of the human soul with God’s soul is somewhat different. He thought that spiritual union with the Divine Soul and the human soul might be established without sacrificing or conquering the senses and appetites. In other words, a man living a wild and wayward life also can make a spiritual relationship with the Soul of God.

This queer blending of the fusion of spiritualism and sensualism runs throughout his famous sequence of mystic poems entitled ‘Songs of Myself’. In section 5 of Songs of Myself, the poet claims to have intimate contact with the Soul of God. In it, he says that the Soul of God appears to him as a close friend that sleeps with the poet in his bed and behaves with the poet as a beloved. The poet says:

”I believe in you my soul, the other

I am must not abase itself to you


I mind how once we lay such a transparent 

summer morning,

How you settled your head athwart my hips 

and gently turned over upon me. 

And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, 

And plunged your tongue to my bare-strip heart

And reached till you felt my beard, and reached 

till you held my feet.

Swiftly arose and spread around me 

the peace and knowledge that pass all the 

argument of the earth.”

The above-quoted lines reveal the poet’s mystic experience, no doubt but the sexual purport of these lines are visible and it denotes that the poet takes God as his intimate friend with whom he had great intimacy.

In the same poem, the poet continues to say that God expresses Himself through His creations, especially through humans and so the poet thinks of God to be his own brother. He says:

”And I know that the hand of God is the 

promise of my own,

And I know that spirit of God is the brother of my own.

And then all the men ever born are also my brothers 

and women my sisters and lovers.”

In section 6 of ‘Song of Myself’, the poet symbolically regards the grass as ‘the handkerchief of the Lord’ and the smallest sprout of nature shows that everything is immortal. He says that nothing or no man dies—everything or everybody units with God’s soul through the death of the physical body. Hence death is only a medium through which every being gets immortality. In the words of the poet:

”The smallest sprout shows there is really no death

And if ever there was it led forward life 

and does not wait at the end to arrest it.

And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward nothing collapses.

And to die is different from what anyone 

supposed and  luckier.”

In section 11 of’ Song of Myself,’ the poet gives a very sensuous description of twenty-eight young men bathing in the sea upon whom an unseen hand of a young lady passes over. The description has an amorous connotation but the mystical connotation is not ignorable. The poet says:

”Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore


And unseen hand also passed over their bodies.”

In the same poem section-24, the poet says that he believes in the flesh and appetites but at the same time he believes that both flesh and soul are heavenly i.e. Divine. He is as holy as the Divine soul. In his own words:

”I believe in flesh and appetites

Seeing, hearing, feelings are miracles,

And each part and tag of me is a miracle

Divine am I and out and I make holy

Whatever I touch or am touched from.”

In the same section, he goes on to say that the human body is as sacred as the soul. The human body is finer and better than the Churches, Bibles and all Creeds. The poet sings:

”The scent of this arm-pits aroma finer than prayer.

This head more than churches, bibles, and all creeds.

If I worship one thing more than another 

It shall be the spread of my own body or any part of it.”

The poet thinks that as God expresses Himself through humans so the human body is not inferior to the soul. He says:

”I am the poet of the body and I am the poet of the soul

The pleasure of heaven and the pains of hell are with me.”

The section-25 of ‘Song of Myself’ is replete with the poet’s mystic experience and mystic view that his soul and voice keep communication with the Divine Soul. The objects of nature are nothing but God Himself and as God’s soul and the human soul are the same, hence there is no difference between the soul of the poet and of the objects of nature. He says:

‘Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sunrise would 

kill me,

If I could not know and always send sunrise out of me



My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach

With the twirl of my tongue, I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds

Speech is the twin of my vision; it is unequal to measure itself.”

The poet in section 28 of the same poem says that he has experienced the touch of an invisible hand in her body that awakens in him a new identity:

”Is this then a touch? Quivering me to a new identity

Flames and ether making a rush for my veins


My flesh and blood playing out lightning 

to strike what is hardly different from myself.”

In section 31 of ‘Song of Myself,’ the poet deliberately admits, like a true mystic, that God is perfect and all its creations are perfect like God Himself as the perfectness of God lies within the objects of Nature. He says:

‘I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the 

journey work of the stars,

And the pismire is equally perfect, and a 

grain of sand and the egg of the wren.”

In the poem ‘I Sing the Body Electric’ the poet sings the glory of the human body as he thinks that the Divine soul lives there:

”If anything is sacred the human body is sacred.


All attitude all shapeliness, all the 

belonging of my or your body or any one’s 

body male or female…..

the womb, the tears, nipples, breast milk, tears laughers.”

”The Passage to India” is another poem the theme of which is his mystic journey from west to east and in the poem he says that God is all-pervading and he masters Nature, Death, Space etc.

‘Swiftly I shrivel at the thought of God 

At Nature and its wonders, Time and Space and Death.

But that I, turning, call to thee O soul than actual me

And to thou gently masterest the orb.


And fillest, sweetest full the vastness of space.”

In the poem ‘Song of the Open Road’ he openly admits, like a deliberate mystic, that in everything of Nature there are Divine things that are more beautiful than their physical beauty. He says:

”Be not discouraged, keep on, there are 

divine things well enveloped, 

I swear to you there are divine things 

more beautiful than words can tell.”

In the poem ‘Chanting the Square Deific’, Whitman gives a clear-cut description of his ultimate mystic view on life and the human soul. He says boldly that he is all including God within himself. He says:

”Chanting the square deific out of one advancing 

out of the sides,

Out of the old and new, out of the square entirely divine.


Old Brahm I, and I Saturnines am.”

Again in the same poem, the poet says that he is the microcosm in himself. He is Christ, he is Hermes, he is Hercules:

”From this side, to the Lord Christ gazes—lo!

Hermes I lo! Mine is Hercules face

All sorrow, labour……absorb in myself

Many time times I have been rejected, taunted

Put in prison and crucified and many times

 shall be again.

And the world have I given up for my dear 

Brothers’ and sisters’ sake for the soul’s sake.”

Again in the poem he runs on to tell the same tenet as:

”Santa, Spirita breather life,

Beyond the light, lighter than light 

Beyond the flame of hell, joyous leaping 

easily above hell 

Beyond Paradise perfumed solely with mine 

own perfume.

Including life on earth, touching, including God,

including saviour and Satan.

Ethereal, pervading all (for without me what were all? 

What were God?)

Essence of forms life of the real identities 

Permanent, positive (namely the unseen)

Life of the great round world, the sun and stars 

and of man, I the general soul.”

Thus, through the bulk of Whitman’s poetry, the mystic note runs on vigorously like a book breaking off all the trees and hills on its path. There are many poets dealing with the mystic theme but among them, Walt Whitman is more explicit, more spontaneous, more violent and more whimsical. 0 0 0

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study

The Theme of Democracy in Walt Whitman’s Poetry

‘Democracy’ is a system of government where people are governed by themselves, especially through the elected representatives of the people of a nation. This system of government is said to be a popular system of administration where the citizens enjoy more and more individual, social, economic, religious and political freedom. Walt Whitman was a great advocate of democracy. But his sense of democracy was something more violent, and wayward because he insisted on the natural freedom in a democratic country. In his poetry, he portrays a vivid picture of the American people and the ideals, aims and doings of a democracy. Throughout his poetry, there are pictures of all classes of people as—the blacksmith, the butcher, the farmer, the soldiers on the battlefield, the prostitute etc. But he, not only tells about them but also delineates the inner nature and democratic aspiration such as—virtues, follies, lusts, politics, politeness, lunatics, etc.

In a democracy, an individual gets much scope to enjoy freedom. He can do what he likes. In other words, to say, he is equally significant like every other people. Hence he says in ‘Song of Myself’ section 1:

”I celebrate myself and sing myself

And what I assume, you shall assume

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

Again he says in the same section of the poem that he is ready to share good and bad equally with others and desires to enjoy natural freedom without any checks. He says:

”I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,

Nature without check, with original energy.”

In a democratic country, every citizen can enjoy everything he wishes or desires because in a democracy everything gets proper development. Even realistic and positive science also gets proper usage. He glorifies science and says in section 23 of ‘Song of Myself’:

”I accept reality and dare not question it,

Materialism first and last imbuing.

Hurrah for positive science! 

Long live exact demonstration!


This is the lexicographer, this the chemist,

this made a grammar for the old cartouches,

These mariners put the ship through 

dangerous unknown seas,

This the geologist, this works with the 

scalpel and this is a mathematician.”

Whitman is the spokesman for democracy; he brings into account the hopes and wishes of all classes of people in American democracy. In section 24 of ‘Song of Myself’, he writes:

”I speak the pass word primeval; 

I give the sign of democracy,

By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have

their counterpart of on the same terms.

Through me, many long dumb voices

Voices of the interminable generation of prisoner and slaves,

Voices of the diseased and despairing and of 

thieves and dwarfs.

Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion.”

In a democracy one shares the good and bad of others and vice-versa. The poet says in the poem ‘The Sleepers’:

”I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers,

And I become the other dreamers.”

Again he says in the same poem that in a democracy, a person enjoys so much freedom that he can be whatever he likes to be and along with it he can play the role of everybody, as—

”I am the actor, the actress, the voter, the politician,

The emigrant and the exile, the criminal 

that stood in the box.”

In a democracy, there is no creed for high and low, all are equal in the eyes of law and everybody can go on his work holding hand in hand. He shows how different castes of people work together in America, in section-8 of  ‘The Sleepers’, Whitman writes:

”The Asiatic and African are hand in hand,

The European and American are hand in hand

Learned and unlearned are hand in hand 

and male and female are hand in hand.”

In the poem ‘Faces’ he portrays the picture of men and women in various professions, as—

”Sauntering the pavement or riding the country 

by-road, lo such faces!


The face of singing music, the grand faces of natural 

lawyers and judges board at the back top,

The faces of hunters and fishers bulged at the brows, 

the shaved blanched faces of orthodox.”

A man living in a democratic country needs no good-fortune; democracy is itself the fortune. In a democracy, every citizen gets everything which is sufficient for him. He says in the ‘Song of The Open Road’:

”Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy free, the world before me,

Henceforth I ask not good fortune; 

I myself am good-fortune.

Henceforth I whimper no more

Postpone no more, need nothing.”

‘I Hear America Singing ‘is a little but great poem through which the poet glorifies American democracy. In this poem, the poet Walt Whitman gives a vivid picture of different sorts of people in different professions busy in their works:

”I hear America singing the varied carols I hear,

Those machines each one singing his as it should 

be blithe and strong

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready 

for works or leaves off work,

The boats men singing what belongs to him.


The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench

The wood-cutter’s song, the plough boy’s


Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.”

In the poem entitled ‘Pioneer! O Pioneers!’, the poet shows the soldiers busy in fighting. In the poems ‘When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloomed’ and ‘O Captain! My Captain’ the poet laments the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Here Abraham Lincoln the then President of America symbolizes American democracy.

Thus the poems of Walt Whitman are the living picture of American democracy. No poet before him had reconciled himself with the ideals of his country as much as Whitman did. And hence he may be called the poet of democracy as well as the poet of the American Nation. 0 0 0

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study 

Problem of Structure in Walt Whitman’s Poetry

Generally, the word ‘structure’ refers to the framework of anything. In other words, it refers to the way of arranging or composing something. In literature, the word ‘structure’ denotes the way of arranging or composing a literary piece. Roughly, though not strictly or discriminately, there are three sorts of structures as—(a) Close or organic or systematic structure, (b) loose or inorganic or illogical or unsystematic structure and (c) compound or complex structure. In a ‘close structure’ the subject matter of a piece of literature is arranged very systematically and it develops through a general introduction to a logical conclusion through well-organized development. It is the ‘close or organic structure’ that makes a literary piece easy comprehensive and enjoyable. The ‘loose structure’ refers to that structure in which the matter of a literary piece is set up disorderly with the least caring for logical order. And the compound structure is that structure in which both the close structure and the loose structure are present. But the close or systematic structure is less present in poetry, especially in modern poetry, because poetry is a genre of literature where emotion plays a dominant role. But emotion has no logic, no order—it rises in the heart or brain suddenly and moves around within itself or wanders around the earth and sky. So in poetry, the close structure is less present. Walt Whitman was a great poet of America. He wrote poems on a variety of themes where only vehement and wild emotions make tide and fall within themselves. Hence his poems are less closely structured.

The study of his glorious work ‘Songs of Myself’ shows that he is less and less careful to structure but more and more attentive to huddling his emotional thoughts and feelings as they take birth in his mind. The ‘Song of Myself’ contains a total of fifty-two sections. In those sections, he is sometimes compound and less organic in representing his themes. For example, we can take section no-24 of ‘Song of Myself’. This section is somewhat long and in it, he has taken into account himself, democracy, mystic interpretation, human beings and of human relationships without caring for a logical beginning or end of the themes.

The section-21 of the same poem is scribed in compound structure bearing both the close and loose structure. At first, the poet glorifies the human body and soul. But when the eighth line begins, he goes astray and he says about the condition of man on the earth and while he reaches the twelfth line, he says about himself and then about the earth without showing any unity of his thoughts and feelings.

Section 6 of the same poem seems to be organic in structure as he gives a symbolic interpretation of the piece of grass and at last he attributes mystic meaning to it.

His short poems seem to be organic in giving shape to the theme. Among short poems arranged in organic structure mention may be made of ‘Poets to Come’, ‘Oneself I Sing’, I’ Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing’.

His long poems like ‘Passage to India’, ‘When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloomed’, etc. bear testimony to his close structure.

Thus the illustration of his poems shows that Walt Whitman’s poems are so burdened with myriad thoughts, feelings and emotions that in representing them he often loses the logic of unity. 0 0 0

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study 

The Style of Walt Whitman’s Poetry

Generally, the word ‘style’ means the manner or fashion or mode of representing something. But in literature, the word ‘style’ indicates the manner or mode of sentences including the rhythms, prosody, cadences, figures, symbols and technique through which the matter of a piece of literature is expressed or represented. Style is not the structure; because ‘structure’ includes the way of arrangement or composition of the matter or thought of a piece of literature. But style includes the manner or way of arranging the sentences including the words employed to them through which the matter or thought is represented and thus the thought gets a body collectivity. As there are many poets and writers so there are many styles. To say discriminately the style differs from poet to poet, writer to writer and even the style of a piece of literature differs from another piece of literature of the same genre by the same author. But there are some writers whose writing styles differ apparently from that of others. Walt Whitman was an American poet who began his literary career, especially as a poet with innovation both in thought and style—which were strange and a miracle without any precedent. His style i.e. the language which includes sentences with rhyme, prosody, figures, symbols etc. was his own and own alone. Walt Whitman’s philosophy was anti-conventional and he, in everything and in every aspect of life, advocated natural freedom with natural brotherhood and mystic interpretation of life. And to invoke his natural freedom, he invented a new style of expressing his new outlook towards life as Srimanta Sankardeva of Assam who invented a new language called Bhajrabali to preach the creed and teaching of his religion i.e. Neo Vaishnavism.

Walt Whitman’s sentences are generally long, full of adjectives that run from one to another as spontaneously as the shower of rain or like the rippling of a brook. For example, we can quote the following lines:

‘Walt Whitman a kosmos of Manhattan the son,

Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding.

No sentimentalist, no stranger above men and women 

or apart from them.”

Sometimes he uses so many adjectives to express the sensuous feeling that proves him that he had a skilled sway over words like Shakespeare. As for example:

‘Sex contains all bodies, souls

Meaning, proofs, purities, delicacies, 

results, promulgations, songs, commands, 

health, pride, the maternal mystery, the seminal milk.

All hopes, benefactions, bestowals all the passions, 

loves, beauties, delights of the earth.

All the governments, judges, gods, followed persons 

of the earth.”

In the above-quoted lines, besides the affluent use of adjectives, he has used no connective words before the adjectives.

His sentences are long and through a sentence, he tries his best to convey a single feeling completely and sometimes he achieves success, and sometimes he fails and begins another sentence to convey the same feeling.

In some of his best poems, he uses alliteration with success which imparts an extra cadence to the recitation of his poems. The poem entitled ‘Pioneer! O Pioneer!’, he makes ample use of alliteration, such as—

i. O restless, resistless race.

ii. The mighty mother mistress.

iii. We primeval forests felling.

iv. Do the feasters, gluttonous feast.

v. We the surface broad surveying. 

In the composition of his sentences, there is a huge use of felicitous phrases, such as— ‘tan-faced children’, ‘Sharped-edged axes’, ‘darling blowing orb’, ‘newer mightier world’ etc.

In his writings, there are ample historical and mythological references that have made his imageries spacious. Such as—

”Cross out please those immensely overpaid accounts,

That matter of Troy and Achilles’ wrath and Aeneas’

Odysseus’ wanderings.”

Walt Whitman cares for no rhythm and prosody in arranging the words in a sentence. But yet, his sentences are full of natural cadences and inter rhymes. We can take the following sentences at random to examine how his sentences bear cadences within themselves:

 i. I wander all night in my vision stepping with light feet,

 swiftly and noiselessly stepping and stopping.

ii. I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers.

And I become the other dreamers.

The use of the symbol is one of the most striking features of his style. He often takes natural objects and attributes certain natures both of man and God to them and shows them in a new enlightened form. In the ‘Song of Myself’, he has attributed a mass of symbolic meaning to a piece of grass. He  says:

”I guess it must be the flag of my disposition,…….

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord


Or I guess the grass is itself a child

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic.”

Walt Whitman, as the quoted lines prove, desired to be an originator of a new style through which he might reveal something appealing to all universally.

In the brief to say, Whitman’s language is neither prosaic nor poetic but between the two. His language and manner of representing the sentences bear the strange and peculiar characteristics which render him peculiarity as a poet of a new order. He is strictly individual in his style. Many poets after him have come under his influence but none succeeds in imitating him completely. 0 0 0

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study

Egotism in Walt Whitman’s Poetry

‘Ego’ refers to the sense of self (self-esteem) or ‘I’, the first person singular. ‘Egotism’ means ‘self-exaltation’ and hence ‘egotist’ is a person who often talks about himself, using the first person singular. In other words, an egotist is in love with himself and considers himself to be much more important. In this sense, Walt Whitman is a thorough egotist, because he has talked much about himself in his poetry. He considers himself to be much important person in a society where he always talks of his own personality, his own likings or disliking, his universal humanity, his equalitarianism and about his own mystic vein in his own body, soul and God. But his egotism is all-embracing that symbolizes every human being.

His ‘Song of Myself’ is replete with his egotism. This poem begins with self-exaltation with universal appeal and says:

”I celebrate myself and sing myself

And what I assume, you shall assume

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

There are both good and bad within him. He is a microcosm of the universe including all men and women. He says:

”Clear and sweet is my soul and 

Clear and sweet is all that is not my soul


Welcome is every organ and attribute of 

Me, and of many man hearty and clean.”

The poet is so much in love with himself that he always remembers that he is much more important in society. He says: 

”It is for mouth forever, I am in love with it


I am mad for it to be in contact with me.”

In section 20 of ‘Song of Myself,’ he declares that he himself is a better being in human society and thinks that he is the being who can see himself in all people. He says:

”I find no sweeter fat that sticks to my own bones


In all people I see myself 

And I know I am solid and sound

I know I am deathless

I exist as I am—that is enough.”

In section 24 of ‘Song of Myself’ he says about his own nature, as—

”Walt Whitman am I, a Kosmos of mighty Manhattan 

the son,

Turbulent, fleshy and sensual, eating, drinking and breeding 

No sentimentalist—no stander above men and women, 

or apart from them;

No more modest than immodest.”

The poet glorifies himself not as a general man but as a divine being. He says in the same section of the ‘Song of Myself’:

”Divine am I inside and out and I make holy whatever

I touch and am touched from 

The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,

This head more than churches, bibles

And all the creeds.

If it worships one thing more than another

It shall be the spread of my own body or any part of it.”

In section 42 of the same poem, he says about his own egotism as—

‘I know perfectly my own egotism

I know my omnivorous line and must not write any less.”

In section 5, he expresses his mystic view on God along with his universal brotherhood, as:

”And I know that the hand of God is 

the promise of my own

And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own.

And that all the men ever born are also 

My brothers and the women my sisters and lovers.”

In section 21 of the poem, the poet glorifies himself as a poet of the soul and of the body and of men and women, as—

”I am the poet of the body and I am the poet of the soul

The pleasures of heaven are with me 

and the pains of the hell are with me.”

In man, there is the nature of wild beings also. The poet admits and desires to live with animals:

”I think I could turn and live with animals,

They are so placid and self-contained 

I stand and look at them long and long.

They don’t sweat and whine about their condition,

They don’t lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God.”

In the poem entitled ‘The Sleepers’, he identifies himself with all classes of people and says:

”I am the actor, the actress, the voter, the politician

The immigrant and the exile, the criminal 

that stood in the box

He who has been famous and he who shall be 

famous after today.”

The poet thinks that he is better and larger than others. He says in the ‘Song of the Open Road’ : 

”I inhale great draughts of space

The east and the west are mine and 

the north and the south are mine

I am larger, better than I thought

I did not know, I held so much goodness.”

The poet sings the ideals of democracy through his own mouth and hence his egotism develops to universality:

”Oneself I sing a simple separate person

Yet after the word democratic, the word En-Masse.”

The above quote lines are examples taken at random. To say in brief, his every poem is a record of himself with an animal appeal. Almost all his poems begin with the word ‘I’, the first person singular and from the beginning to the end he always talks about himself. There are poets and poets who write in the first person singular, but Walt Whitman is an exception. He is the most egoist of all poets that have trodden the Earth till today—because he leaves nothing of himself to get portrayed in his poems. 0 0 0

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study 

Symbolism in Walt Whitman’s Poetry

‘Symbol’, in the broadest sense of the term, is anything that signifies something else. In other words, it is an object or event which is used to suggest a range of references beyond itself. To say again in other words, a symbol is a thing or object the significance or meaning or nature of which is attributed to another thing. In literature, symbols are of two kinds as—first, conventional symbols and second is private or invented symbols. Conventional symbols are those things or events the significance of which are universally recognized and have been used by poets or writers through the ages. The private or invented symbols refer to those objects or things taken after the choice of the poet or writer to signify individual purpose. There is an abundant use of symbols in the poetry of Walt Whitman. His symbols are both conventional and private. In many of his symbols, he has attributed mystic meaning. As symbols he has taken: stars, plants, birds, flowers, clouds, night etc.

In the long poem, ‘Song of Myself’ he frequently used ‘I’ which refers not only to Walt Whitman himself but has a symbolic significance of everyman. His use of ‘I’ thus gets a universal meaning and it refers to every individual person. He says in section 1 of the poem:

‘I celebrate myself and sing myself

And what I assume, you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

Again in  section-3, he says:

”Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear 

and sweet is all that is not my soul.”

In section-6, he introduces a piece of grass and has attributed five symbolic meanings such as:

”I guess it must be the flag of my disposition

Out of hopeful green stuff woven

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord


Or I guess the grass is itself a child,

the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic… .”

In the poem ‘When Lilac Last in the Door-Yard Bloomed’, Whitman employs several symbols as lilacs, Venus, thrush, star, black-clouds etc, to symbolize President Abraham Lincoln. All these symbols symbolize birth, death, and resurrection. The ‘star’ and ‘Venus’ symbolize the bright career of Lincoln and the ‘dark-cloud’ which covers the star symbolizes the death of Abraham Lincoln. The ‘lilac’ symbolizes ‘life and love’. The ‘thrush’ symbolizes the song of rebirth.

The poem ‘Out of the Cradle Endless Rocking’, contains some symbolic objects of nature. Amongst them, the ‘bird’ symbolizes the sufferance and death in Nature and the ‘sea’ symbolizes ‘motherhood’ which in turn symbolizes birth and life.

‘The Sleeper’ is a poem that abounds in symbols. In it, he uses ‘night’ as a symbol of death, ‘sleep’ as the symbol of the grave. In the poem ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ he attributes symbolic meaning to ‘ferry’ and wants to suggest that ‘ferry’ is a symbol of universal brotherhood where many people come and meet. ‘The Crossing Brooklyn’ signifies the crossing of time on the earth to heaven. Thus the ‘ferry’ becomes a medium of death and re-birth.

‘The Passage to India’ is another poem where the poet attributes symbolic meaning to ‘Passage’. By it, he wants to suggest that the ‘passage’ from west to east does not only mean the physical passage to India but the spiritual passage from western thoughts to eastern thoughts. Hence, the passage is a journey-work from earthliness to heavenliness. 

Thus the poet Walt Whitman uses symbols in his poems to interpret his outlook on life and things. By employing symbols he attributes wider meanings to his poems. He suggests more, to say in other words, by introducing symbolic meaning to the objects of nature. He admits:

”I myself but write one or two indicative words for future

I but advance a moment only to wheel and 

hurry back in the darkness


Leaving it to you to prove and define it

Expecting the main things from you.” 0 0 0

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study 

The Note of Optimism in Walt Whitman’s Poetry

‘Optimism’ is a doctrine or ‘ism’ that looks at only the bright side of life ignoring all the gloomy sides and holds the view that ultimate good or happiness comes to life. Walt Whitman, the national poet of America, was an optimist. In many of his poems, his optimistic outlook toward life is expressed without any veil. He was optimistic about every aspect of life including death also. A general analysis of his poetry shows him to be so.

In section -50 of ‘Song of Myself’, he admits that the world is full of happiness—but one must know to enjoy it. He says addressing his brothers and sisters:

”It is not chaos or death—it is form union,

Plan—it is eternal life—it is Happiness.”

The poet welcomes everything that happens naturally to him. He even welcomes, like a hero, old age which is generally full of pessimism—sorrow, sufferance and negligence. He writes:

”Old age superbly rising! O welcome, ineffable grace 

of dying days!

Every condition promulgates not only itself, 

it promulgates what grows after and out of itself.”

Instinctively every man is afraid of death. But Walt Whitman is defiant to death. He bears a bright outlook on death and says that to die is as lucky as to be born:

”Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born?

I hasten to inform him or her, it is just as lucky to die….”

Again in the same poem, ‘Song of Myself’, he challenges death and writes:

”And as to you Death and you bitter hug of mortality 

it is idle to try to alarm me.”

The poet is hopeful to sensual life also. He wishes to enjoy life to the full with natural freedom and says:

”Today, I go consort with nature’s darlings—to night too

I am for those who believe in loose Delight—

I share to the mid-night orgies of young men.”

The poet glorifies worldly life. In him, there is not the slightest gloomy outlook toward earthly life. So, he celebrates the human body as—

”If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.”

Again in the same poem, he welcomes every attribute of life and says:

”Welcome every organ and attribute of me, 

And of any man hearty and clean.

Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile.”

The poet rightly advocates that ‘love’ is the main source of all happiness and it is love that can solve every problem:

”Be not disheartened—Affection shall solve 

the problems of freedom yet:

Those who love each other shall become invincible.” 

‘Song of the Open Road’ is a poem that is full of the cheerfulness of life. He hopes that advancement in life must come. It will come to everybody. He says:

”Henceforth I ask not good fortune, 

I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, 

need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries querulous criticisms 

Strong and content I travel the open road.”

The poet closes the poem with a note of faith and hope, as—

”Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?

Shall we stick by each other as long as we live.”

The above analyses show us that there is a considerable note of optimism in Walt Whitman’s poetry. But his optimism is pertaining to natural freedom. He hopes to enjoy life cheerfully not within a social institution or through convention but wildly and vehemently through wayward living. But his place as an optimistic poet in American literature is perhaps after none. 0 0 0

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study

Walt Whitman’s Poetry A Thematic Study

Books of Composition by M. Menonimus:

  1. Advertisement Writing
  2. Amplification Writing
  3. Note Making
  4. Paragraph Writing
  5. Notice Writing
  6. Passage Comprehension
  7. The Art of Poster Writing
  8. The Art of Letter Writing
  9. Report Writing
  10. Story Writing
  11. Substance Writing
  12. School Essays Part-I
  13. School Essays Part-II
  14. School English Grammar Part-I
  15. School English Grammar Part-II..

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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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