Leaves of Grass | Study Guide

Walt Whitman

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Leaves of Grass | Faces | Summary

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Summary

Whitman's speaker catalogs all the faces he sees: "Faces of friendship, precision, caution, suavity, ideality." Despite their differences, he sees them all and approves of them all.

There are many hideous faces, too: "a dog's snout sniffing for garbage," "a face of bitter herbs," and a face "bitten by vermin and worms." But the speaker can see beneath these "haggard and mean disguises" to the real person underneath, "every inch as good as [himself]." "I read the promise and patiently wait," he says. He sees an old Quaker woman sitting on a porch and finds her beautiful. She represents "the melodious character of the Earth."

Analysis

"Faces" is a poem that catalogs and celebrates the diversity in America. As in many of his poems, Whitman's persona does not judge any face to be superior to another. He says, "I see them and complain not and am content with all."

Via his style of democratic poetry, Whitman is able to go to the "finish beyond which philosophy cannot go and does not wish to go." He knows every person contributes to the whole, and no matter one's outward deeds, the promise is within each individual. Whitman uses vivid figurative language to describe unpleasant faces. He breaks down the faces into objects and then personifies the objects. Thus, a cruel man becomes a "haze more chill than the arctic sea," and this haze has "wobbling iceberg" teeth that "crunch as they go." By separating the humanity of the face from its inhuman actions, Whitman can illustrate the duality of loving the person while hating what he does.

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