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Leaves of Grass | Plot Summary

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Summary

Song of Myself

The speaker introduces himself as a poet and a voice of the American people. He celebrates his poetic vision. He catalogs the vast diversity of the American public and invites everyone to join in a poetic dialogue with him.

A Song for Occupations

The speaker praises the American people for having many varied occupations, and he lists these occupations. He declares that all occupations have equal value in his view. He wishes for each person to accept his or her worth and contribution to the whole.

To Think of Time

The speaker asks his reader if he thinks he is nothing. He then declares all the ways in which the reader is not "nothing." Despite having a short life, humans are "something" because they are unique, and the unique mark they make has an eternal quality.

The Sleepers

The speaker has a vision of floating over the sleeping bodies of the American people. He lists various types of sleepers and says they are all equal in sleep. He is able to enter others' dreams, take on their identities, and understand them.

I Sing the Body Electric

The speaker describes various people in acts of love and friendship. He tells anecdotes about the communion of bodies and his observations. He declares that all bodies are equally wonderful, even those of slaves.

Faces

The speaker describes all the various types of faces he sees, both pleasant and hideous. Despite their differences, he sees them all and approves of them all. He can see beneath the surface, to the core of human potential.

Song of the Answerer

A young man comes to visit the speaker seeking answers. The speaker catalogs all the various people who accept him as he accepts them. He sees their inner beauty and this transforms them.

Europe, The 72d and 73d Years of These States

Europe revolts against their royal rulers. Liberty comes to lend her support. The speaker will never give up his belief in liberty. Tyrants will never control her, and she will continue to send her messengers throughout the world.

A Boston Ballad

In Boston, the speaker attends a march to protest federal soldiers escorting a fugitive slave back to his master. The speaker tells the patriots who fought and died for America's freedom that they are not welcome there. Instead, Congress should import King George's bones to bow down to.

There Was a Child Went Forth

A child inspects the things he encounters in the world and as he does, he becomes them. The speaker catalogs these objects, and as a result the child feels they are a part of him. These objects are also now a part of the reader.

Who Learns My Lesson Complete

The speaker catalogs his audience. He gives his audience a lesson, which is that one's first lesson is to learn how to learn lessons. He declares that everything is wonderful and defies anyone in his audience to find something not wonderful.

Great Are the Myths

The speaker explains what he finds great, including myths, as well as liberty, equality, democracy, and many other concepts and things. He also addresses the need for balance between good and evil and life and death.

I Hear America Singing

The speaker lists the diverse voices of an American public. Each person sings a song about his own experience, and each experience is unique and wonderful. They are proud to sing for the speaker and for America.

Starting from Paumanok

While at home in Paumanok, the speaker calls to all people in America to immerse themselves in his poetry. He catalogs places and types of people in America and declares himself the poet of them all, no matter who they are.

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing

The speaker sees a tree growing in Louisiana. It seems content to be alone. The speaker takes a twig from the tree home. He often looks at the twig and thinks how he could never be as content as the tree to be alone.

Song of the Open Road

The speaker travels on the open road and catalogs the diversity of people he meets there. He invites his audience to travel with them, and gives them rules for the road. He admonishes everyone to keep going, even through tough times.

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

The speaker watches the Brooklyn ferry in the late afternoon as people head home from work in Manhattan. He admires the city and its inhabitants, and the river, waves, and sunset. No matter who they are, or even what time period they are from, everyone is unified in their enjoyment of nature.

Pioneers! O Pioneers!

The speaker calls out for his audience, his fellow pioneers, to go with him to seize a new world. They will trek under a flag that unites them. Some may fall, but the battle continues as they expand into the unknown with their innovative spirit.

Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

On a day in May, the speaker discovers a nest of two birds. When the female bird goes missing, the male bird sings a sad song. This song awakens the speaker's poetic spirit, and he discovers that "death" is the word superior to all others.

As I Ebb'd With the Ocean of Life

The speaker goes to the shore in a troubled state of mind. He likens himself to the useless driftwood. He begs his mother the ocean to let the flow within him continue so he can write better poetry. He does this even though he knows all people, including him, are just driftwood to the ocean of life.

Beat! Beat! Drums!

The speaker commands the drums and bugles of war to "beat!" and "blow!" and be very loud. The public needs to be called to war, and this is their purpose. He implores them not to stop for anyone, even the dead.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd

The speaker laments the loss of his president (Abraham Lincoln). He takes a sprig from a lilac bush and places the sprig on a coffin. He hears a bird sing a sad song. At first the speaker does not join in, but then he does. He finally accepts death and keeps his memory of his loved ones.

O Captain! My Captain!

The speaker praises his captain (Abraham Lincoln) on leading their ship safely to port. When he sees the captain fall dead upon the deck, he is upset. He wants the captain to rise again, but he does not. So the speaker walks the deck instead.

By Blue Ontario's Shore

The speaker sits by the blue shore of Lake Ontario and is asked to write a poem of America. The speaker catalogs America's cities, natural wonders, and people. He gives the requirements of a poet, and declares he should be America's poet. When the bards of old visit, he tells them to go away.

A Noiseless Patient Spider

The speaker watches a spider build a web. He compares the way this spider ceaselessly works to the way his soul works to understand the eternal.

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