Walt Whitman a renowned American poet also referred to as the father of the free verse had a great mission of pushing for what can be well termed as a rebirth of a new nation, United States of America. His literary works show that all he wanted is a democratic nation that would embrace unity, love, and tolerance despite diversity. Whitman pushed his missions through the poems that he wrote and in “The Song of Myself” his strong sense of democracy racial tolerance, unity and equitable distribution of the national cake was artistically depicted but in a concealed manner through his manipulation of the aspects of nature as symbols.
Whitman uses several symbols in his poem “The Song of Myself” to express his mission of fighting for a democratic US. When he posts a question in section six “What is grass?” it compels the reader to engage in critical thought to establish the message he drives home (Whitman 6). He reflects on the American Civil wars where so many black Americans died fighting for democracy but their strong sense for that revolution still remains as grass fed on their graves and continued growing. Here Whitman seems to depict the regeneration of democracy and the need for Americans to embrace it despite their diverse origins. Whitman continues in section six that grass “grows in the graves of the black folks as the whites” implying that we are all equal before God and nature and therefore criticizing the superiority complex of the white supremacists who felt like they should have the biggest share of the US than their black counterparts.
Racial tolerance was another great mission that Whitman addressed in his poetic works. In section seven of the poem “Song of Myself” he imposes a rhetorical question “has anyone supposes it lucky to be born?” and continues to say that no one shall be in this world forever, therefore human beings should appreciate the presence of their neighbors for we are all in this world for a short period. He criticizes the superiority of the white Supremacists by reminding them that everyone in the US has a right to live and enjoy all the services of the government as a citizen “one of the Nation of many nations, the largest the same and the smallest the same” ( Whitman 16). Whitman gave an ironical title, “song of Myself” but it turns out that he was speaking on behalf of the Black Americans and other minority groups living in the US and have been undermined and for a long time in history suffered in the hands of the ruthless White supremacists.
Unity, as depicted by Whitman, is a significant aspect that all Americans should uphold to enhance development in all dimensions of life. He stresses on unity when he says “ this is the grass that grows wherever land and water is,/ this is the common air that bathes the universe” therefore sending a message that anyone can live in any part of the world and thus unity is an inevitable aspect that results in the development of a nation. The diverse origins of the population in America as illustrated by Whitman should not derail economic, political and social growth which will only be realized if these citizens resolve to come together and build a strong nation. He says that he “would not accept anything from who cannot have their counterpart on the same terms” which depicts his thirst for unity and democracy (Levine et., 348). Even if Whitman is not alive today, his efforts must have brought the unity that he propagated in the minds Americans and although it has not been fully adopted by some Native Americans, massive improvement has been noted from the slave trade era to the civil wars era and strong America we have today.
In conclusion, Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is a reflection of how beautiful, prosperous, democratic, peaceful and united nation that he wished America would become. It has an ironical title as the readers first take it to be a story about his life but after interacting with the diction, symbols and varied stylistic devices, a greater picture of the missions that Whitman engaged in, in the effort of building a united and democratic America that we have today. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Americans harbored doubts whether the US would thrive as a nation and whether democracy and racial tolerance would prevail but Whitman uses figurative diction that depicts the essence of a Democratic and united America that we have today.
- Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine, eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Eighth International Student Edition. WW Norton & Company, 2011.
- Whitman, Walt. Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself: A Sourcebook and Critical Edition. Routledge, 2013.