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Leaves of Grass | Quotes


I am the poet of the body, / And I am the poet of the soul.

Narrator, Song of Myself

In "Song of Myself," the speaker introduces himself and his unconventional brand of poetry to the world in a long, rambling, free-wheeling poem. He declares the body and the soul are equally good, a radical departure from the church's view that the body corrupts the soul. Whitman's speaker proclaims himself the poet of both.


I am large ... I contain multitudes.

Narrator, Song of Myself

The speaker is aware that he often makes contradictory statements, but he has an argument at the ready: as the voice of a nation with so much diversity, he must assimilate many viewpoints and speak their truths via his omniscient speaker persona.


I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Narrator, Song of Myself

Before Whitman, poetry was often seen as a pursuit of polite society. He scandalized many with his frank expressions of sexuality and his departure from traditional form. But as an innovator, Whitman was on the scene to shake things up, and his "barbaric yawp" certainly did that, introducing a free verse style without rhyme or strict meter (a linguistic sound pattern using stressed and unstressed syllables).


None shall escape me, and none shall wish to escape me.

Narrator, A Song for Occupations

As America's poet, Whitman sees himself as the great benevolent equalizer with a power akin to a god. His speaker persona is omniscient and sees everyone for exactly who they are as well as who they have the potential to be.


Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good.

Narrator, To Think of Time

In this poem, Whitman argues for the immortality of the soul. He has a positive outlook on the contribution he is making to humankind, and that it will be eternal because "the whole universe" and the "past and the present" indicate that his contribution is good. Likewise, each human on Earth contributes to the eternal in his own way and that bestows immortality.


I do not ask any more delight ... I swim in it as in a sea.

Narrator, I Sing the Body Electric

As the "poet of the body," Whitman found human touch and connection to be essential, even as he was deeply ambivalent about it. "I Sing the Body Electric" glorifies the body, some of the passages quite erotically, and Whitman is delighted to do so.


The finish beyond which philosophy cannot go and does not wish to go!

Narrator, Faces

The "finish" can be seen as a place of immortality and idealism. The basis of philosophy is logic, and as poetry is an art, it can reach emotional and spiritual heights that philosophy neither wants to go nor is able to go, according to Whitman.


Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else.

Narrator, I Hear America Singing

Whitman is a great believer in a collective democratic society, but asserts that diversity and individualism are equally as important. The unique contribution of each individual is what fulfills an individual in a collective society and makes the nation great.


Here is a man tallied—he realizes what he has in him.

Narrator, Song of the Open Road

Away from the constraints of society, a man can discover who he really is and what he has to offer. The speaker claims that the open road was a democratic force that leveled the playing field for everyone. People could experiment and be truly innovative. He himself discovered the true American poet within him when he gave into the freedom of expression that the open road allowed him.


What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?

Narrator, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

Nature was a democratic and unifying force for Whitman. As he stands next to the ferry and looks at the sunset, he realizes all people share this experience, no matter their station or time period.


A thousand warbling echoes have started to life within me, never to die.

Narrator, Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

In "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" the speaker tells his "origin" story as a poet. In the story, he listens to the sad song of a bird whose mate has gone missing, and the empathy he felt awoke the poetic muse within him that provided the voices of his poems.


The real Me stands yet untouch'd, untold, altogether unreach'd.

Narrator, As I Ebb'd With the Ocean of Life

In one of his more confessional poems, Whitman wonders if all his work thus far has been meaningless. He realizes he has to dig deeper within himself to reveal the emotional truths of transcendent poetry. The speaker asserts a separateness here that comes up in many of Whitman's poems, a separateness at conflict with his message of unity.


Oh Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done.

Narrator, O Captain! My Captain!

President Abraham Lincoln was an admired figure and his death was a shock to the nation. Whitman eulogized Lincoln in several poems, this being his most famous. In this opening line, Whitman's speaker praises Lincoln for leading them successfully through the American Civil War, and laments Lincoln's death when the conflict is barely over.


Produce great Persons, the rest follows.

Narrator, By Blue Ontario's Shore

This is Whitman's contract with America. If America's individuals are great, he, too, will be great. Whitman saw himself as America's first true poet, someone born of the American tradition and of the great American Idea. He rejected the bards and poems of old in favor of a land that celebrates the contributions of each individual person.


Ceaselessly ... seeking the spheres ... Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Narrator, A Noiseless Patient Spider

Whitman often wrote in his poems of his belief in the immortal soul. In "A Noiseless Patient Spider," he compares and contrasts the way a spider spins a web to the way man strives to reach higher consciousness and immortality.

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