Table of Contents
One’s Self I Sing is a poem by the American poet Walt Whitman. The poem was released in the fifth edition of Whitman’s masterpiece Leaves of Grass, published in 1871. The poem was initially an “inscription” in the work’s 1867 edition, from where it was revised. All the poems in this anthology, including this one, are based on themes such as the philosophy of life, the celebration of humanity, nature, and the significance of the individual. In this poem, Whitman pays tribute to one’s self as well as to humanity as a whole, while incorporating political notions of liberty and democracy.
About the Author
Born on May 31, 1819, in New Jersey, Walter Whitman Jr. was an American poet, journalist and essayist. He is considered to be one of the most influential poets in American literature and is often referred to as the “Father of Free Verse”. Whitman’s poetry is characterized by free verse, expansive lines, and a celebration of the human body and spirit and the same can be seen in his most famous literary piece Leaves of Grass (1855). Whitman is a key figure in American Transcendentalism and has incorporated the genre of realism in his work. Interestingly, during the American Civil War, Whitman worked in hospitals and treated the wounded. Some of his famous works include The Half-Breed, A Tale of the Western Frontier (1846), Drum-Taps (1865), Democratic Vistas (1871), etc.
The poem is short, comprising only 9 lines. It is divided into three stanzas, which contain two, four, and three lines respectively.
Lines 1- 2
One’s-Self I sing, a simple, separate person, Yet utter the word Democratic, the word en-Masse.
The poem begins with the speaker expressing what they shall be “singing” about. The speaker comments that they intend to sing about one’s individual self, who is a simple and separate entity. Yet even when they sing about individuality, they include terms such as “Democratic” and “en-Masse”.
Here, the poet highlights the connection between the individual and the society. Even though an individual is their own self with their own set of unique values and beliefs, they also form a part of the collective. These lines highlight how it is all the singular persons who collectively make up the society.
Of physiology from top to toe, I sing, Not physiognomy alone, nor brain alone, is worthy for the
The speaker further goes on to say that they intend to sing about human physiology or the study of how the human body functions. For this, the speaker wishes to talk about the human body from the top of the head to the tip of the toes. The speaker next remarks how they don’t think that human physiognomy, which includes human appearances, or the brain alone is worthy to be called a Muse.
The speaker shifts from a collective, democratic identity to discussing the physical human body and its attributes. The poet intends to explore all the facets and aspects that exist within anyone’s individuality- whether it is their social identity or their physical being.
Muse, I say the Form complete is worthier far, The Female equally with the Male I sing.
The speaker next comments on how in their opinion, the form and soul of the human body is far worthier to be called a Muse than anyone’s external appearances. The speaker, next intends to sing of both the female and male gender identity equally.
As the speaker further explores the identity of an individual, they put more emphasis on the human soul than on the human body and appearances. The body and soul of any person are intertwined and inseparable. And it is the soul where one retains their beliefs and values. The speaker also provides their gender inclusive perspective and comments on how they treat the female and male identities equally.
Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power, Cheerful for freest action form’d, under the laws divine, The Modern Man I sing.
The speaker “sings” about the human life that is immense in passion, pulse and power. The speaker claims that human life is cheerful at the prospect of attaining liberty and acting freely. And this liberty, according to the speaker, is formed under the laws of the society which they term as divine. Lastly, the speaker ends the poem by saying that he sings about the Modern Man.
The speaker brings in two seemingly contradictory notions of freedom and societal laws and jurisdictions and expresses the importance of their co-existence. People in society can exercise their fundamental values, and their freedom and power only when they are all governed under the same laws. And these democratic laws are considered divine by the speaker. Thus, this individual, who exercises his/her fundamental rights and liberty under the modern democratic government is termed as the “Modern Man” by the speaker.