Study Guide

Song of Myself Friendship

By Walt Whitman


For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease . . . . observing a spear of summer grass. (section 1)

The speaker always plays nice and shares his toys…and atomic particles. Friendship in this poem develops in two directions. On the one hand, he wants to be friends with "you," who is both the reader and everyone he has met in his journeys. On the other hand, he wants to be friends with the different parts of himself. He invites his soul out for a grass-watching party.

I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself;
They do not know how immortal, but I know.

Every kind for itself and its own . . . . for me mine male and female,
For me all that have been boys and that love women,
For me the man that is proud and feels how it stings to be slighted,
For me the sweetheart and the old maid . . . . for me mothers and the mothers of mothers,
For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,
For me children and the begetters of children.

Who need be afraid of the merge?
Undrape . . . . you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded,
I see through the broadcloth and gingham whether or no,
And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless . . . . and can never be shaken away. (section 7)

The speaker's efforts to befriend people are complicated by his desire to play the mentor. He thinks that he has important knowledge to impart about death, eternity, self-reliance, and other topics. At the same time, he wants to be a "companion" on an equal level with others. Can he have it both ways? What do you think?

This is the meal pleasantly set . . . . this is the meat and drink for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous . . . . I make appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The keptwoman and sponger and thief are hereby invited . . . . the heavy-lipped slave is invited . . . . the venerealee is invited,
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

This is the press of a bashful hand . . . . this is the float and odor of hair,
This is the touch of my lips to yours . . . . this is the murmur of yearning,
This is the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face,
This is the thoughtful merge of myself and the outlet again. (section 19)

If you were to show up to one of the speaker's dinner parties, you'd better be prepared to run into a colorful cast of characters. His policy is to never, ever exclude anyone for any reason. All people are equally worthy of love and attention, and so no one is turned away from his door.  He expresses his affections through the sense of touch. In Whitman's day, people did not worry as much about what a hug or kiss implied.

A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my caresses,
Head high in the forehead and wide between the ears,
Limbs glossy and supple, tail dusting the ground,
Eyes well apart and full of sparkling wickedness . . . . ears finely cut and flexibly moving.

His nostrils dilate . . . . my heels embrace him . . . . his well built limbs tremble with pleasure . . . . we speed around and return. (section 32)

In addition to people, the speaker develops the bonds of friendship with animals and also with non-living things. He expresses his love and affection through touching and body contact, as you see here when the horse is "responsive to my caresses."

Man or woman! I might tell how I like you, but cannot,
And might tell what it is in me and what it is in you, but cannot,
And might tell the pinings I have . . . . the pulse of my nights and days.

Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity,
What I give I give out of myself.

You there, impotent, loose in the knees, open your scarfed chops till I blow grit within you,
Spread your palms and lift the flaps of your pockets,
I am not to be denied . . . . I compel . . . . I have stores plenty and to spare,
And any thing I have I bestow.

I do not ask who you are . . . . that is not important to me,
You can do nothing and be nothing but what I will infold you.

To a drudge of the cottonfields or emptier of privies I lean . . . . on his right cheek I put the family kiss,
And in my Soul I swear I never will deny him. (section 40)

The idea of confiding and telling secrets occurs several times in the poem. The speaker has a secret to tell other people but is not able to do so, probably because language itself is not sufficient. Instead, he shows his affection through actions, by supporting those whom society would normally marginalize. He often compares himself very subtly to Jesus Christ. At the end of this passage, the statement "I never will deny him" refers to Jesus' friend and disciple Peter, who famously denied Jesus three times after he was captured.

Listener up there! Here you . . . . what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
Talk honestly, for no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer. (section 52)

At the end of the poem, the speaker tells the friend he's talking to (us!) that he will be leaving on his trip, so we shouldn't waste the chance to confide in him. This "journey" might be a metaphor for death.