Walt Whitman's 'Song of Myself' is, on the most basic descriptive level, a really long poem. Whitman is clearly a poet with a lot to say, or at least with a lot of different ways to say it. He meanders from the micro to the macro, from atoms to the whole earth. There are obviously myriad ways to explain what the poem is about, and myriad 'keys' to its true meaning. In what became Section 6 of the final edition (lines 90-121 of the 1855 edition ) Whitman himself addresses this sort of 'meta-question' of interpretation. By doing so in one of the quieter, more straightforward sections of the poem, Whitman invites us to use the section as one such 'key.' In Section 6, Whitman lays out a (possible) microcosm of 'Song of Myself' and gives a very kind prompt that here is a place where befuddled readers can ease their way into the poem.
Whitman signals from the beginning of this passage that it is more accessible than most of his others. The first line tells us simply of a question asked by a child: ?A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands?? (90). In contrast to some of the earlier lines--the challenge of line 22 (?Have you reckoned a thousand acres much? Have you reckoned the earth much??) or the confusion of lines 30-31 (?I have heard what the talkers were talking?.the talk of the beginning and the end,/but I do not talk of the beginning and the end?.?) --this information is easy to process. We are likely
to pause and enjoy the refreshing image of an inquisitive child, hands full of grass. Although Whitman goes on to catalogue all kinds of similar brief, simple sketches, for the moment we only have to deal with one. This single child is a messenge...
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... (as determined by the 1891-1892 edition). Whitman?s answer to the question he posed to us earlier is now just what we might expect. ?They are alive and well somewhere;/The smallest sprout shows there is really no death? he tells us (116). This seems almost to say ?Good job?you followed my clues correctly, you too can read poetry.? By setting this section up, Whitman gives us one of his main themes that we can proceed to follow through this poem. At the same time, he shows us that one poem can be about many different ideas, and so cautions us against being too adamant about our newly discovered lens. His multitude of ?uttering tongues? can be confusing, but he does not leave us stranded?he gives us a map that shows one way to navigate this poem, and also the freedom to discover others at will.
Whitman, Walt. "Song of Myself." 14 Nov 2006 .
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