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Past Discussions of Group Reads > Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

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message 1: by Tami (new)

Tami | 3103 comments Mod
We are going to have one thread for each book as now Goodreads has made a spoiler tag that you can use to put before anything that is a spoiler. Use your discretion as to what would be a pretty big spoiler and label it. Please put up to what page the spoiler is for.

To create the tag simply do this:

< spoiler> Blah blah blah spoilery stuff < /spoiler>

*Take out the spaces in both of the spoiler tag.

It will look like this:

(view spoiler)

Discuss away...

message 2: by Zach (new)

Zach Irvin | 27 comments alright, i'll get it started. i love song of myself. whitman's style is so freewheeling and embracing. it feels like you're eavesdropping on an intimate conversation with a wise old man even though he's speaking directly to you. i also love the almost mythic stature that whitman has acquired through the years. with the likes of sherman alexie and allen ginsberg writing poems featuring whitman. it's like whitman inspires people to sound their barbaric yawp. writing in a time when there seemed to be so much religious constriction in america whitman was a true visionary who saw through those things and was able to find a love for all things human.

message 3: by Emily (last edited Jul 02, 2011 05:40PM) (new)

Emily  O (readingwhilefemale) | 487 comments I definitely agree with Zach about Whitman's intimate style. I find it really impressive that Whitman was able to cultivate that intimacy even though the speaker of the poem is this expansive all-inclusive self.It seems contradictory at first, but, to quote the poem, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."
I think part of how Whitman cultivates that feeling of intimacy is through the exploration of private scenes, in both the speakers experience and those he witnesses. He explores and loves his own body, even the smell of his armpits. He rejects squeamishness about sex, excretion, and the body in general. He also comments on intimate scenes. He sees a little baby sleeping in its bed, and swats away the flies. He sees two young people dallying in the bushes. He sees the scene of a recent suicide. All of these are personal moments, but he is there, and he claims those moments as his own.
Another way Whitman cultivates intimacy is by having the speaker directly address the reader. Phrases like "All that I assume, you will assume" help to make the poem more like a conversation between two people, like Zach mentioned. In fact Zach, it's interesting that you called the speaker "a wise old man." In my American Literature class that I took last semester, my professor constantly referred to Whitman as "good old Uncle Walt." I think he really gives off the vibe of a wise and loving old man in this poem.
What I love about this poem is the way it is just brimming over with love. Whitman, or I guess the speaker of the poem, seems to genuinely love everything. He loves himself, his body, the trees, the grass, other people, and the whole country of America. And it seems like such an innocent and genuine love, like he's truly joyful to be in contact with the rest of the world. I think that sense of youthful exuberance, mixed with the persona of a wise and favorite uncle, is what makes it absolutely impossible for me to dislike this poem.

message 4: by Zach (new)

Zach Irvin | 27 comments The "I am large, I contain multitudes" is my favorite line from the poem. It's almost like Whitman is turning himself into America itself, taking the greatest ideals that America stands for and giving them a voice within his poem. Giving voice to any and all people that find themselves living here.

message 5: by Greg (last edited Jul 06, 2011 04:12PM) (new)

Greg R. | 6 comments I think that's a questionable statement. America definitely doesn't give voice to all the different people living there. Coloured people, poor people, women, native americans - the voices of all these people are pretty much ignored by those in power. Maybe on the surface that's what America pretends to stand for, but when you look a little closer you quickly see that it's pretty much a sham.

message 6: by Zach (new)

Zach Irvin | 27 comments I would agree with you, but Whitman I think also saw this in his lifetime and wrote his poems in response to this. Why else would he be so intent on encompassing all people's and so in favor of all different people (like in Song of Myself when he takes in the runaway slave and vows to protect him with the nearby gun if need be) if not to highlight the glaring incongruity between what America claimed to believe in and what it actually practiced. it is absolutely true that America is the land of the double standard, but Whitman took it upon himself to speak for all, especially those that were not given a voice at the time.

message 7: by Greg (new)

Greg R. | 6 comments Oh okay, I agree with that. I got the impression from your original post that you really believed in The American Dream and all that stuff. My apologies!

message 8: by Ruthie (new)

Ruthie Irvin (yiddish) I find that it is completely possible to believe in the American dream without believing it exists perfectly. Zach seems to be implying that, even- that Whitman is expressing a belief in this dream even if it isn't in practice. Don't authors often write things in order to give them a voice?

message 9: by Greg (last edited Jul 07, 2011 02:02PM) (new)

Greg R. | 6 comments Yeah I wasn't trying to say anything against that. There's nothing wrong with believing in it as an ideal and something to strive for. All I was saying is that it doesn't exist in real life and Zach's original post gave me the impression he thought otherwise. He quickly clarified what he meant and I agreed with it.

message 10: by Samantha (new)

Samantha (samhanson) | 179 comments I'm in an American lit class right now and the teacher recommended the class reading "Song of Myself" recently, since we are currently studying the Beat generation, whose ideas are partly inspired by Whitman. I wasn't planning to participate in the group read this month and haven't had much interest in Whitman but when he recommended it I figured I'd check it out.

I'm glad I did! This poem was truly beautiful. I loved the celebratory feeling and how it shows the ways one can find beauty in every object, every animal, every person, every feeling. The day I finished it I found myself staring at bumblebees and flowers and relishing the breeze on my flesh. Although of course not everything in life is beautiful, after reading "Song of Myself" it's easy to find beauty in things that are often overlooked. I also absolutely agree with what everyone was saying about his tone. It is very embracing and intimate, and it seems the "I" in the poem is not just Whitman or a narrator, but more a universal I. Anyone can feel, see, and experience everything in this poem if they are just open to it.

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