Thursday, October 11, 2007

Excerpts From Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

These excerpts from Whitman's Song of Myself give you a sense of his rolling, relentless style. Whitman broke wildly from Western poetry's formal tradition (exemplified by the Dylan Thomas poem last week), choosing instead to write with no set meter or rhyme scheme--what we now call "free verse"--long before free verse became popular. Song of Myself, is, in part, about bucking convention and breaking boundaries: the poem ecstatically dissolves the borders between Whitman's body and the world and the borders between bodies. It is ambitious, sensual and unabashedly in love with nature. Written more than 150 years ago, its call to celebrate ourselves still resonates.


I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the
distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,

I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised
and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
The smoke of my own breath,
Echoes, ripples, buzz'd whispers, love-root, silk-thread,
crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the
passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and
dark-color'd sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch'd words of my voice loos'd to the
eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the
fields and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising
from bed and meeting the sun.

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd
the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?


Walt Whitman (1819-1892) grew up in Brooklyn and Long Island. While a student of the classics, his style was perhaps most influenced by cadences in the Bible. His work was unique for its time and “free,” contrasting starkly with the rhyme and metrical regularity of most poetry of the period.

If you're interested in reading more of the poem, or learning more about Whitman, take a look at The Whitman Archive here.



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