The Twenty-Ninth Bather
The "Twenty-Ninth Bather" section of "Song of Myself' is so famous that we felt it deserved its own heading here. Basically, it's a short narrative or vignette, along the lines of the naval battle in sections 35 and 36. The imagery is extremely erotic, and many critics think that Whitman was expressing his own desires through the eyes of the voyeuristic young woman. The language is extraordinarily vivid.
- Section 11: The young woman sees 28 young men bathing naked in the river, and she imagines herself as the "twenty-ninth bather." Whitman addresses her through apostrophe, saying, "Where are you off to, lady?" Like Whitman, she takes a journey in her mind. Her eyes are compared metaphorically to an "unseen hand" that touches their bodies. Why 28 bathers? Some critics think that the number relates the usual number of days of a woman's menstrual cycle. Just throwin' it out there. Feel free to tell us what you think.