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Walt Whitman’s poem ‘Animals’ is a singularization of plurality. The poet discovers a sense of oneness with the animal kingdom. The poet’s foundation is his affection for and intimacy to their animal soul. Humans do not grumble, nag, or spew meaningless remarks in the poet’s world. There are no norms, no conventions, and even no regrets in his universe. What keeps the poet alive is the beauty of the current moment. In this poetry, the poet cheerfully abandons humanity in favour of animals.
About the Poet
Walt Whitman, an American poet, essayist, and journalist, was born on May 31, 1819, in New York. Walt Whitman was a well-known American poet who is generally referred to as the “Father of Free Verse.”
Walt Whitman’s poem ‘Animals’ explores a multitude of challenges, including animal vs. human conflict, hardship, materialism, religion, and individualism. First and foremost, the poet desires to transform into an animal since animals are superior to humans not because of their abilities but because of their nature. The poet alludes to the futility of human wants by combining the animal vs. human theme. As a result, he seeks solace in the ‘living-in-the-moment character’ of animals. There is also a mention of two sorts of human suffering. One that hurts the body and the other that makes the soul ache. Apart from that, the poem shows how the poet’s individuality is always at war with the principles of religion. Furthermore, the poet alludes to materialism as the source of human pain.
‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman is a poem in free verse, without having specific line lengths or rhyme schemes in general. The poem appears to be written in a single stanza. However, for a better understanding, three stanzas make up the extracted segment of the poem. Only two lines have been taken from the third stanza since it is lengthy enough. However, there is an instance of slant rhyme.
For example, in the second stanza, the word “sins” rhymes with “things.”
Furthermore, in this poetry, the shortening of lines denotes a shift in concepts.
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
Walt Whitman’s ‘Animals’ starts right away, without beating around the bush. Whitman wishes to transform into an animal and be one of them. The reason is apparent. They are placid or easy-going and are not easily agitated by everyday events. They are content with what they have. In these attributes, the poet is no different from the animals. That’s why he watches them for hours and feels amazed by seeing himself reflected in them.
Stanza 2: Lines 1-3
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
This portion of Walt Whitman’s ‘Animals’ relates to the three primary qualities that distinguish animals from humans. To begin with, they do not “sweat and whine”(complain) about their condition. The poet employs metonymy in “sweat” to explain strain as a source of sweating. Second, according to the poet, they do not lay awake at night weeping for their sins. They are indifferent about God’s vengeance or sufferings in hell. Finally, they do not make the poet sick by reminding him of his obligations to God. Here, the poet expresses his rebellious (non-conformist) nature, which is in tune with the creatures of the wild.
Stanza 2: Lines 4-6
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Through this, the poet refers to mental frustration.
Furthermore, the poet metaphorically parallels possessive behaviour to a kind of obsession in “mania of owning things.”
“Lived thousands of years ago” indicates use of hyperbole.
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
The poet continues to speak about the traits of animals in this part of ‘Animals.’ He states that no animal is dissatisfied with what they have. They aren’t even demented from materialistic needs. They also never kneel before another entity or the beings that came before them. They are unconcerned with gaining social regard and are not deceitful like humans. They show their true colours in front of other animals. Each one is treated with equal respect. Their hearts are always filled with joy. The poet condemns worldliness in this passage. He emphasises the significance of self-awareness, individual liberty, and present happiness.
Stanza 2: Lines 7-9
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.
As Walt Whitman explains all the reasons in the preceding section, he adds, “So they show their relations to me and I accept them”. The poet’s heart holds no regrets about breaking ties with the human world. As they bring him the “tokens” of himself, he accepts them. In other words, it reflects the poet’s nature in a symbol or representation. These symbols are clearly displayed to the poet.
I wonder where they get those tokens,
Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?
In the last two lines of ‘Animals’, Whitman wonders where they acquired those tokens. He implies that he may have dropped them negligently (carelessly) in the past. It suggests that he was once a part of their world. Time has changed him and torn the string that binds them together. He realised after many years in the human world, that this world did not resemble his nature. That is why he proudly announces his fidelity to the animal world.
In conclusion, the entire poem is about the growth of human greed and desire. The poet believes that in the beginning of time, humans were innocent, honest and decent. All of those virtues, however, have now been lost. Animals, on the other hand, appear to have retained those virtues.