Song of Myself
America was not just a place to Whitman, it was also an idea and a goal to shoot for. His America is a place where all people are equal, all jobs are equally important, and people feel for one another with a passionate, neighborly love. He views his identity as being so wrapped up in this American idea that the poem's title could easily have been "Song of America" instead of "Song of Myself." The poem celebrates the diversity of the nation. Beneath the surface, the poem is also a desperate attempt to remind his fellow Americans of their common bonds. Whitman was aware of the potential for violent bloodshed looming on the horizon. Tragically, the Civil War, which began a few years after he published the poem, proved that his worries were well founded.
Questions About Visions of America
- What are the central elements of Whitman's ideal of America?
- If he were alive today, what elements of American culture would Whitman be happy about, and in what elements would make him put on the old frowny-face?
- Does Whitman ever criticize America, either directly or implicitly?
- Why do you think this poem has often been considered the most representative American poem?
Chew on This
Whitman is a run-of-the-mill patriot whose attitude is "my country, right or wrong."
Based on the poem, it seems Whitman had no particular patriotism toward the policies or government of his day. For him, America is more important as an ideal than as a reality.