Song of Myself
How we cite our quotes:
Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore,
Twenty-eight young men, and all so friendly,
Twenty-eight years of womanly life, and all so lonesome.
She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank,
She hides handsome and richly drest aft the blinds of the window.
Which of the young men does she like the best?
Ah the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.
Where are you off to, lady? for I see you,
You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room.
Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty- ninth bather,
The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them. (section 11)
Throughout the poem, the speaker "identifies" with various other people and characters in small vignettes like this one. The shy woman hides behind her window but touches the naked men with her eyes. The poem takes on her perspective as Whitman pours his enormous personality into her.
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuffed with the stuff that is coarse, and stuffed with the stuff that is fine,
One of the great nation, the nation of many nations— the smallest the same and the largest the same,
A southerner soon as a northerner, a planter nonchalant and hospitable,
A Yankee bound my own way . . . . ready for trade . . . . my joints the limberest joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deerskin leggings,
[. . .]
I resist anything better than my own diversity,
And breathe the air and leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place. (section 16)
As he says later in the poem, the speaker contains "contradictions" and opposites. He's both the Yin and Yang, if you will. His diversity reflects the diversity of America, a "nation of many nations." He especially takes care not to seem like a snob or an elitist, even though some people have claimed that Whitman was an elitist in real life. "Song of Myself" is a populist poem, meaning that Whitman exalts the "common man" and not the wealthy or the elite.
Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos,
Disorderly fleshy and sensual . . . . eating drinking and breeding,
No sentimentalist . . . . no stander above men and women or apart from them . . . . no more modest than immodest. (section 24)
These lines read almost like an epigraph on a tomb. You'll notice that, at least in the 1855 version, the speaker defines himself first and foremost as an American. (Later he will define himself as "of Manhattan"). Again, the talk of common pleasures like eating and sex gives these lines a populist ring: he enjoys the things that the "common man" enjoys.