Study Guide

Song of Myself Identity

By Walt Whitman


I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
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)

We have no idea at the beginning of the poem just what celebrating "myself" will entail. We're thinking maybe it's like somebody at his own birthday party – a quiet, slightly sad affair. Little do we know that Whitman's celebration is like a party for the entire world, and for America, in particular. He provides a clue when he says that his atoms belong to us, too. That means that our atoms – and everyone else's – belong to him. Also, notice how the soul is a like another person who comes along with him. It is more common to think of the soul as a basic part of one's identity.

They come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself.

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looks with its sidecurved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it. (section 4)

Before this quote, the speaker has been talking about all of the things that take up his time and attention: newspapers, politics, gossip, etc. He's cool with that, but these things do not make up the central element of his personality known as the "Me myself." Like the soul, the "Me myself" is treated as a separate person, one who simultaneously observes and participates in life ("Both in and out of the game").

I believe in you my soul . . . . the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.

Loafe with me on the grass . . . . loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want . . . . not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice. (section 5)

Here the speaker returns to the image of hanging out in the grass with his soul. In a sense, the whole poem takes place while Whitman and his soul are looking at the grass. Whitman tries to get his soul to speak, but the soul speaks only in music, not in words or meaning. We're not sure whether the soul does any of the speaking in this poem, unless perhaps in the background, through sound and rhythm.

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.

It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air . . . . I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you (section 52)

Did you ever read the Shel Silverstein book The Giving Tree when you were a kid? Here, Whitman is like The Giving Man. At the end of the poem, he gives up his body to the air and the soil. He does not think he has to give up his identity in order to merge back with nature.