NO labor-saving machine,
Nor discovery have I made;
Nor will I be able to leave behind me any wealthy bequest to found a hospital or library,
Nor reminiscence of any deed of courage, for America,
Nor literary success, nor intellect—nor book for the book-shelf;
Only a few carols, vibrating through the air, I leave,
For comrades and lovers.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Walt Whitman's poem No Labor-Saving Machine.


  1. Lena says:

    The speaker catalogues all the mainstream world-changing accomplishments that people have been known to achieve in a lifetime, constantly refuting the possibility of themself ever having that sort of success. Each item seems to link to a new field of people that the speaker presumes they’ll be letting down by being “ordinary”: the fieldhands will groan at the absence of a “labor-saving machine”; the people in struggling towns will be upset at the absence of “weathy bequests” to fund their public works; the American people will begrudge them for no “reminiscence of any deed or courage”.
    However, the speaker does acknowledge their one contribution to the world: their “carols”, which can be interpreted several ways: if the speaker is Whitman himself, they refer to his poems, though in other contexts a “carol” could be anything. A song, a piece of art, any sort of method of connecting with others. Though often overlooked, the human connection is just as important as all the other highly regarded feats that keep society running. The speaker offers their carols to “comrades and lovers”, indicating that this is the group they care most to please. No matter your nationality, wealth, or status, if you can open your heart to others this speaker is willing to serve you.
    Whitman was a transcendentalist, believing in the otherworldy intuition that manifested in humans and emphasizing a strong connection with nature. He would certainly be one to see past the big-image tropes of society and focus more on forging deep emotional connections. While the other items in the list will all get your name in the paper, a transcendentalist would believe that the carols “vibrat[ing]” through the air have more substance and value in the long run.

  2. Shalu says:


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