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Walt Whitman’s ‘I Sing the Body Electrica’ Poem Essay

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Updated: Aug 17th, 2020

Walt Whitman’s “I sing the body electrica” initially appeared without a title. Whitman’s poem belongs to the American epic genre that contributed to the shift from transcendentalism towards realism, but both views have been incorporated in this poem. For instance, Whitman views the body and soul as the same and sacred (transcendentalism) and celebrates the nature of the body “in its natural state” rather than using a “romanticized depiction” (realism).

The poem was set to celebrate the nature of the human body. For instance, in the initial publication, the first line of the first stanza was “the bodies of men and women surprise me”. In the initial edition, Whitman changed the first line to “the poem of the body”, making it known that the intention was to appreciate the nature of the human body. In addition, a number of critics have argued that the poem lacks the in-depth characteristics of the Whitman’s works. Moreover, critics have argued that the final section of the poem does not show a relationship with the other sections that celebrate the body of humans. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the poem provides evidence of the late American Exceptionalism of the late 19th century.

In stanza 2, Whitman records his delight, but says that the word “delight” is a weak term because it cannot fully describe his pleasure of being alive. He states that the word cannot fully describe the qualities of the human body. He states that the human body is sacred in the line “if anything is sacred, then the body of men and women is scared”. In addition, he seems to criticize the common belief that the soul and the body are separate entities. For instance, in section 1, the poet questions the agreement about the soul in his question “what is the soul if not the body?”

Whitman uses the human body as an image of creation according to religion. In this section, the poet thinks that the body portrays the special aspects of creation. The body signifies the wonders of creation as depicted in religion. Whitman seems to acknowledge that most people have many doubts about the nature and characteristic of the human body. In his argument, Whitman seems to argue that the common Christian belief that the body and the soul are separate is wrong. For instance, Christians believe that the body is the seat or home of the corrupt nature that destroys the soul. Whitman responds to the people who had doubted the nature of the body.

In the first stanza, Whitman shows a happy mood in appreciating the nature of the human body. In addition, the title “I sing the body electrica” signifies a mood of celebration.

In the second stanza of the poem, Whitman asks his audience to consider the perfection of the human body. He develops stream images of the body, developing a sensual desire of humans and creation. Whitman writes, “The swimmer is naked in the swimming bath… the embrace of resistance and love… of two little male wrestlers with masculine muscles”. In this case, Whitman seems to be attracted to all the aspects of the human body. He appreciates the nature of men.

In the third stanza, the masculine appearance of the young wrestlers is used to show the poet’s appreciation of how males are made with strength, which starts early in the life of a person. In saying this, Whitman shows his attraction to the human body rather than the soul, especially the nature of virile men. He sheds portrays his identity and the desire to be close to the masculine people, which shows his believe in cerebrating masculinity, where he states, “I loosen myself and pass freely… I am at the breast of the mother with the little kid…” In addition, Whitman says, “I swim with those who swim and wrestle with those who wrestle”.

The poet appears to be appreciating the ability of the human body to take different activities with vigor. In particular, Whitman seems to appreciate the energy and agility of the young body. There is no doubt that the poet does not refer to the human body in old age, which shows that he was appreciating his body when he was young. Noteworthy, Whitman was among the young people in the US during the industrial revolution of mid 1800s, where young and middle-aged people provided the required labor for the industries. It seems that Whitman was celebrating the contribution of the human body to the economic and social developments of his time.

In the third section, Whitman seems to gaze the human body with love and affection. In particular, he refers to a patriarchal farmer, noting his energy, agility and ability to use his body. It is possible that Whitman was referring to his father in a negative manner. He seems to use the figure of the farmer to contradict the appearance of his father. For instance, he refers to his previous work “There was a child went forth”. The old man described in this section refers to his father in the previous poem. In addition, Whitman seems to idealize the nature of his body in old age, which mostly resembles that of his elderly father.

In the fourth stanza, Whitman seems to be convinced that the most satisfying thing is to admire the bodies of agile male and female humans. He argues that the Christian belief that the body is obvious and sinful is a wrong perception.

In the fifth stanza, Whitman attempts to describe the nature of the human body, referring to the “bodies of men and bodies of women”. However, the reader must note the emergence of a new issue in sections five

In the sixth stanza, Whitman talks about the constituent element of “song of myself”, Whitman says that the body of a man is sacred, the body of a woman is also sacred and the human body is generally sacred. According to the poet’s perception, every person, in particular the body of every human being has a special and important place in a democratic society.

In section six, Whitman portrays his nature of being prone to egotism, which is not common in the other poems he had written. In this section, Whitman speaks of his body and self as well as the audience. He speaks to himself and his readers, where he challenges the human perception of the body and the nature. Although this section has been paraphrased, the actual meaning that Whitman wanted to express is that the nature was created to serve humans. The beauty of nature, such as the vegetation, running water and the soil, are made specially to serve the human body. Whitman seems to support this claim.

In the stanza seven, Whitman portrays his democratic point of view. In particular, this point of view is portrayed in sections seven and eight. Here, Whitman’s observations are focused on the nature of the body of male and female slaves at auction. In the seventh stanza, Whitman refers to the sale of a slave in the Antebellum US. Here he seems to acknowledge that the most important aspect of a slave is energy, masculinity and abilities of the body.

However, in the eighth stanza, Whitman states that the bodies of male and female slaves are wonderful. He states that the bodies seem to be the mother of multitudes, which means that they are attractive to the slave owners because they have the potential to multiply through parenthood, producing more and more slaves.

In the eighth stanza, American exceptionalism is portrayed. Whitman seems to refer to the nature of the US social system during his time. Slavery was the most important aspects of the United States at the time, especially in the Antebellum South. In particular, no other nation in the world had this type of economic and social system. In slavery, the economy of the United States was depending on human energy. Whitman seems to refer to the important role that the human body was playing in slavery, especially in providing the needed labor.

In the last stanza, the body is used as an image of social continuity. Whitman states that the bodies of males and females are wonderful because they connect spiritually and physically to produce children.

Ironically, the body is used as an image of the American history. The American exceptionalism is portrayed in the worship for the physical nature of the human body instead of the soul. The body is used as a symbol to represent the human perception towards the qualifications needed in slavery. The American exceptionalism is portrayed in this case because slavery was an American issue in the antebellum era, where landowners traded in humans. Whitman argues that the body was the major object of interest in the trade, which made American an exceptional society.

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