Literature Study GuidesLeaves Of GrassWho Learns My Lesson Complete Summary

Leaves of Grass | Study Guide

Walt Whitman

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Leaves of Grass | Who Learns My Lesson Complete | Summary

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Summary

Whitman's speaker addresses his audience and provides a list of who that might be. He asks them to "draw nigh" so he might begin his lesson, which is "no lesson ... it lets down the bars to a good lesson." He is a friend of the laws of nature, and he finds the nature of time and the immortality of the soul to be wonderful. He asks his audience to tell him of anything that is not wonderful.

Analysis

As befitting of America's democratic poet, Whitman speaks to everyone in this poem, which is made clear by his randomly arranged list of people, from boss to schoolboy. Whitman's speaker is a poet, and as a poet, he is also a teacher who imparts lessons by example instead of lecture. Wisdom comes from experience‚ÄĒbefriending "the great laws," as Whitman's speaker has done.

In this sense, Whitman's lesson is a lesson on how to learn a lesson. His lesson opens up the mind to the possibilities for wisdom that arises when contemplating the wonder of nature, "this round and delicious globe," and the immortality of the soul. To learn the speaker's lesson complete, one must give oneself over to experiencing this wonder.

In addition to writing this poem in the first person, Whitman is specifically self-referential, listing his age as 36 in 1855, his height as six feet, and his birthday as May 31, 1819. In this way, Whitman creates the illusion that there is no distinction between his author self and his speaker persona. It is, however, an illusion, as the historical Whitman cannot be equated with the narrative identity he created for himself.

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