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“Song of Myself” and “The Sleepers” by Walt Whitman Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: May 6th, 2020

Song of Myself: Part I

The title of this poem is “Song of Myself” and it raises several queries concerning the poet’s intentions. I was expecting this poem to have strong rhythmic elements but this was not the case. Therefore, I did additional research and found that the original title of the poem has changed a few times since 1855. Initially, the poem was known as “Poem of Walt Whitman” and then “Walt Whitman” before it eventually acquired its current title in 1881.

The insistence on ‘self’ and Walt Whitman indicates that the poem is very personal to the author. In addition, I reckon that Whitman is very insistent on expressing his true self through “Song of Myself”. The first half of Whitman’s poem tracks the element of ‘self’ in a number of ways. First, the poet is quick to signify the start of his journey in the poem’s opening. Consequently, the “I” in the poem is most likely the voice of the poet who is speaking to “you” or the reader.

The “I” is introduced in the first line of the poem as the overall voice of the poem while the “you” follows in the second line. This strategy also places both the poet and the reader on the same platform. Consequently, the poet has the ability to take the reader through his journey of birth and self-discovery. The poet begins his journey of self-discovery by “observing a spear of summer grass and inviting his soul” (Whitman 1).

The poet promises the reader to look inwards when seeking answers to some of life’s quagmires. In the “Song of Myself”, the poet has a good idea of what it takes to access oneself. According to the poet, in order to seek himself the narrator “leaves the reeds and schools behind” and goes “to the bank by the wood to become undisguised and naked” (Whitman 2).

I found the events that transpire in the first half of “Song of Myself” to be quite intriguing but closely connected to the poem’s title. The poet incorporates strong elements of his body and soul into the poem and puts the reader on a similar platform with the view of expressing ‘self’. The title of the poem also indicates that the soul is a major consideration for the author.

Song of Myself: Part II

A large portion of the poem’s second section uses erotic elements to communicate the poet’s message. I found most of this erotic commentary to be confusing at first but it coincides with the poet’s line of thought. Beginning with section 18, the poet delves into a celebration of the erotic dimension of humanity. Interestingly, the poet delves into erotic insinuations gradually and he eventually manages to find the ‘climax’ of this eroticism.

In sections 28, the poet’s eroticism erupts when he finds the touch that has the potential to introduce him to a new identity. At this point, it is not clear where the narrator is heading with his erotic line of thinking. However, as I continued to read the poem a few issues became clear although others were still in the dark. Some of the most confusing sections of “Song of Myself” involve the author objectifying himself sexually until he comes to a point of virtual orgasm.

The purpose of the poet’s use of eroticism is not clear until section 32 where he recounts what he gains from his sexual experiences. After his gratifying experience, the poet appears to be celebrating his discovery of true pleasure whilst doubting its accomplishments. The poet concludes his sexual experience by bidding farewell to the ‘magical touch’ that he has just discovered. However, the poet takes time to find out what the experience meant for him in the subsequent sections of the poem.

The poet poses the question “what is less or more than a touch” (Whitman 28). Consequently, the poet hypothesizes whether this experience is the most important part of life or there is anything better out there. This question comes after the poet has gone through a major erotic experience.

The intrigues of this experience continue when the poet is thinking about becoming one with the animals. However, in the end the poet realizes that this experience was just part of the journey to self-discovery and he has a lot to learn as his journey continues. The poet’s subsequent journey is not able to overcome the magnitude of his sexual considerations (Moon 87). The rest of the poem assumes a more somber mood thereby calling the reader’s attention to the seriousness of the poet’s considerations.

The Sleepers

“The Sleepers” is among the poems that have far-fetched meanings in Walt Whitman’s poetry collection, “Leaves of Grass”. The poem fails to stand out among Whitman’s other influential works such as “Song of Myself”. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether the poet intended to use hidden meanings through the simple context that is used in “The Sleepers”. On the other hand, the complexity of the poem might be coincidental.

The poet starts the poem when he is in a dream and then proceeds to outline his journey of self-discovery. The complexity of this poem is fueled by the fact that the poet does not change approaches or stances throughout his experience of a night vision. It would have been easier for readers to understand the poet’s message if the poem incorporated other dimensions apart from the dream world. I would categorize Whitman’s “The Sleepers” as more of a vision than a poem.

The poet himself states at the opening of the poem that he is having a vision while he is deep asleep. Visions are not recognized as mainstream literature genres but they should be incorporated to cover poems, short stories, and novels that explicitly feature this type of fantasy. It is also important to note that the author uses the dreamer’s mind as the medium of exploring an alternative universe (Moon 7). It was interesting to see how the author uses the experience of one person to highlight issues that affect several individuals.

Whitman uses the dreamer to highlight issues that concern misfortune, suffering, degradation, and violence. These issues are common within a majority of the world’s population. However, by exploring these problems through a dream medium, Whitman engages fantasy and the concept of a wholesome life.

Most people believe that they cannot escape the difficulties of this life unless they do so through a dream or another form of medium such as cinema or fictional novels. The poet does not move from the dream world to the real world and this shows that it is possible to live in an alternate world and still encounter problems or traverse them just like the people in the real world.

Works Cited

Moon, Michael. Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Corporeality in Leaves of Grass, Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1993. Print.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of grass, New York: McKay, 1960. Print.

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