Song of Myself
Visions of America Quotes Page 2
How we cite our quotes:
Swift wind! Space! My Soul! Now I know it is true what I guessed at;
What I guessed when I loafed on the grass,
What I guessed while I lay alone in my bed . . . . and again as I walked the beach
under the paling stars of the morning.
My ties and ballasts leave me . . . . I travel . . . . I sail . . . . my elbows rest in the sea-gaps,
I skirt the sierras . . . . my palms cover continents,
I am afoot with my vision. (section 33)
Comparing himself to a boat that unmoors from its "ties and ballasts," Whitman makes a metaphorical journey across America and other parts of the world. (Even though he's still dreaming in the grass). Every line seems to be set in a new place. Whitman inspired later poets who were known for their travels, like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
I tell not the fall of Alamo . . . . not one escaped to tell the fall of Alamo,
The hundred and fifty are dumb yet at Alamo.
Hear now the tale of a jetblack sunrise,
Hear of the murder in cold blood of four hundred and twelve young men. (section 34)
In this section Whitman sounds like a passionate patriot who is outraged by the mistreatment of American prisoners by the Mexicans in the Mexican-American War. Whitman was not known to be especially opposed to war, but he can't abide when people don't play by the rules. In other sections he praises the glory of victory and defeat, but here his tone is somber.
I tramp a perpetual journey,
My signs are a rain-proof coat and good shoes and a staff cut from the woods;
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, nor church nor philosophy;
I lead no man to a dinner-table or library or exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooks you round the waist,
My right hand points to landscapes of continents, and a plain public road.
Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself. (section 46)
Whitman had read the essays of the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, who praised the American virtue of "self-reliance." Self-reliance means thinking for yourself and not taking your cues from what other people do or from what is written in books. It has its roots in the American tradition of independence and innovation. These lines perfectly capture the spirit of Emersonian self-reliance.