Literature Study GuidesLeaves Of GrassI Sing The Body Electric Summary

Leaves of Grass | Study Guide

Walt Whitman

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Leaves of Grass | I Sing the Body Electric | Summary

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Summary

Whitman's speaker declares that the bodies of male and female are perfect. He admires various body parts and movements of male and female bodies, and witnesses various people in acts of love and friendship. He tells an anecdote of an 80-year-old man who had many children and grandchildren who loved him well. The speaker decides happiness is to be with people he enjoys, "to pass among them ... to touch any one." Physical contact pleases the soul.

Again he lists the wonderful qualities of the female and male forms, especially for their reproductive capabilities. Both are sacred. He attends a slave auction for a male slave and criticizes it, saying the bids "cannot be high enough for him." He says much the same for the auction of a female slave, adding, "Who knows through the centuries what heroes may come from them?" Slaves are just as worthy as anyone else.

Analysis

"I Sing the Body Electric" is one of Whitman's more erotically tinged poems, dealing with the human body and its purpose as a connector of souls. Bodies coming together create happiness for Whitman's persona, and his speaker declares ecstatically, "I do not ask any more delight ... I swim in it as a sea." The poem is structured in nine loose parts to form a whole, much like body parts form a whole. Whitman's speaker uses his familiar lists, democratically cataloging the parts in no particular order.

Having a body for Whitman's speaker is as important as having a soul, for the soul works through the body to make connections that bear "the great fruit of immortality." That is, by joining together, people can create a kind of intangible poetry in motion, but also the very tangible offspring that also produce offspring and keep the human spirit alive through the ages. Whitman did not believe the body corrupted the soul (a traditional view held by the church) but celebrated the body vigorously. He also broke with tradition by judging males and females to be equals, whereas women had long been considered inferior to men.

In addition to equality of the sexes, Whitman asserts equality of race, criticizing the selling of slaves at auction. He uses repetition to great effect in the line, "Within there runs his blood ... the same old blood ... the same red running blood." This repetition emphasizes the idea of equality, and also the violence of slavery.

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