ONE’S-SELF I sing—a simple, separate Person;
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-masse.
Of Physiology from top to toe I sing;
Not physiognomy alone, nor brain alone, is worthy for the muse—I say the
Form complete is worthier far;
The Female equally with the male I sing.
Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful—for freest action form’d, under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.
i want to find song of myself,but i did not find the result.cao you send me by email?thank you very much.
This poem was like a breath of fresh air. How nice it is to sing a song of “one’s-self.”
i would def. have sex with him. i love his poetry.
i liked his poems with his relationship with jesus
I know that Whitman loved anal sex, I bet he took it in the butt 1,000,000 times in his life. That is why his poems are sooo gay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
this poem was very interresting i really liked it i found it very ummmmm….good
Walt Whitman- The Dreamer of the Future
“Dreams have only one owner at a time. That’s why dreamers are lonely.” In this quote, Erma Bombeck embodies the life, works, and subject matter of the poetic genius who is Walt Whitman. His poetry encompasses nature, beauty, and sex in a multifaceted blend. Not all poets are innovative in their format, text, or style; however, one poet in particular, Walt Whitman, stood above the crowd. He took a stand in his way of writing and formatting. In every area of creative expression, there are people who mark their generation by being innovative. And, they are not often well received when they are initially introduced to the world. In the past centuries of American literature, an evolution of literary devices, structures, and themes has continued. One writer who has become an icon in American literature is Walt Whitman. Whitman has distinguished himself by being innovative in his use of formatting, his use of urban living as a positive environment for poetry, and his use of sex as a literary theme.
One gains insight to Whitman’s innovative poetry by looking at his imagery. One of the questions Whitman consistently posed concerned his contemplation of life and who he was in it. Whitman uses two main images to represent his ideas on life in all of his works. The objects of boats and water are used consistently throughout one of his major works, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.”
There are two types of boats described in Whitman’s poem, each representing a different type of person. The first boat mentioned, the ferry boat, seems to represent the ambitious type of person. This is evidenced by how Whitman describes the boat. He writes that “hundreds and hundreds” of people would cross in order to return home. The ferry boat travels short distances at a very quick rate and is used mainly in big cities.
“Crowds of men and women attired…on the ferry-boats…returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose” (Lines 3-5). When he describes the ferry boat and the amount of work it does delivering people back and forth, Whitman may be illustrating how the boat represents the ambitious workers.
Although numerous boats are used to represent the mediocre people, the hay boat, in particular, embodies this persona. They are slower moving boats than the ferry-boat but move with the wind and the tide. “On the river the shadowy group, the big steam tug closely flank’d on each side by the barges, the hay boat, the belated lighter” (Line 46). These boats appear to represent diligence and mediocrity in the fact that they move with the sea and move with the flow. It does work in a milder sense compared to the ferry; however, its labor is heavier than that of the steamboats.
Whitman uses not only the boats in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” as images to portray ambitious and mediocre people but also the water that carries them. The first use of imagery with the water in the poem is the current. In line 9, Whitman shows the “current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away.” Whenever Whitman enters the current, it is always synonymous with rushing and hurrying. This type of person is potentially seen in Whitman’s eyes as ambitious and focused (Bloom 25). It is best summed up in line 13. “Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly, yet haste with the hasting current.”
The second type of person who mildly works through life is symbolized by the numerous rivers meticulously imbedded in the poem. The positive connotation exerted into Whitman’s rivers could show his favoritism toward the mildly working way of living. For example, lines 23 and 24 state, “Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and bright flow, I was refresh’d.” His use of the word, “refresh’d” twice and “gladness” once, illustrates his affinity for this style of living. Whitman’s use of water and boats to represent two different styles of living are evidence of his use of imagery in his style of poetry. According to V.A. Shahane, a critic of Whitman, these images “seem like parts of a dream, pictures of fragments of a world. (But), they have solidity; they build the structure of the poem.” (Shahane 2) The water and boats are solid objects that anyone can view; however, these images have a deeper meaning and provide a deeper understanding of Whitman’s intent.
When it comes to format, Whitman was a trendsetter through his use of parallelism, description and free verse. There are numerous examples of parallelism in Whitman’s writing. For example, in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Whitman often uses similar words at the beginning and ends of each line. In stanza 5 lines 5-12, almost each line begins with the words “I too.” His intent may have been to emphasize the encompassing nature of the experiences he is describing. There is also a repetitive nature to the endings of his lines in this work. In these same lines almost all the ending words of the phrases end with “me” or “mine.” Another example of parallelism in Whitman’s poetry is in “Song of Myself.” This poem features lines ending word patterns, showing cause and affect. Line 3 ends with “throat,” and line 5 ends with “voice.” The throat causes the voice. Line 8 ends with “heart,” and line 14 ends with “love.” The heart causes the love. Line 11 ends with “earth,” and line 15 ends with “fields.” The earth makes the fields. Not only does Whitman connect his line endings, but he also repeats action verbs and pronouns to illustrate his new format of poetry writing.
Whitman’s redundancy spills over into his description in “Song of Myself.” In this work, he uses present tense repetitive-style verbs to describe universal actions. In lines 2, 9, and 27, his word choice includes. “eating, drinking, surging, breeding, and rolling.” Also, in lines 26-29 Whitman writes of the “beating of my heart, the passing of…air through my lungs…” This format of repeated actions is a simple descriptive technique that Whitman employed, although not a frequently implemented style at the time.
In his works, “Democratic Vistas” and “Song of Myself,” Whitman expresses himself through his new found way of writing, free verse. Free verse is also known modernly as a hybrid of old-style patterned poetry, prose. Free verse is regular, everyday speech without a specified meter or thyme. A lack of pattern, rhyme and particular meter is noticeable in “Democratic Vistas.” “Intense and loving comradeship, the personal and passionate attachment of man to man – which, is hard to define, underlies the lessons and ideals of the profound saviors of every land and age, and which seems to promise, when thoroughly developed, cultivated, and recognized in manners and literature, the most substantial hope and safety of the future of these states will then be fully expressed.” This verse could be a portion from an essay or an oratory, but Whitman, ahead of his time, succeeded in birthing it into a legitimate free style of poetry that still lives to this day.
In “Song of Myself,” Whitman also expresses his poetry in an unconventional manner. “I believe in the flesh and the appetites, seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle” (Lines 26-27). There is no apparent metered line, pattern or rhyme in this poem. Whitman is expressing the individuality of a person through his individual and freestanding style of writing. This new delivery of poetry, free verse, was rejected by the general poetry-reading public until the depth and intuitive nature of Whitman’s works became apparent, years later (Shahane 2-3).
This repetitive word usage was an innovative writing style for Whitman’s time.
Although Whitman’s delivery of poetry is unique, his perspective is also one-of-a-kind. He has a powerful way of creating timelessness in his work. In “Once I Pass’d Through A Populous City,” Whitman expressed a loving relationship which could occur between any two people at anytime and anyplace. This universal nature is themed throughout his poetry and is well illustrated in this poem. Line 12 states, “Again we wander, we love, we separate again, /Again he holds me by the hand, I must not go.” This passage is timeless, because it could be felt or stated by anyone at any age. It may be a small child sensing the separation anxiety of a parent. It may be an aged person fearing the solemnity of the end years. It may be a lover embracing the temporal nature of an intimate companionship. It is not clear what Whitman is meaning, whether literal or symbolic, but this timelessness gives an unparalleled perspective.
This perspective of timelessness is also demonstrated by Whitman in “Here the Frailest Leaves of Me.” There he inscribes, “Here I shade and hide my thoughts, I myself do not expose them” (Lines 2-3). This passage expresses the human need to keep secrets. There always have been and always will be sacred thoughts kept by humans not to be shared outside of an intimate relationship. Here, Whitman seems to be struggling with his desire to share personal thoughts, yet he wants to remain private. The motivation, again, is unclear. He may have been fearful of rejection, embarrassed with shame, or humbled by lack of confidence. Whatever the theme, Whitman taps into the universal nature of humanity by illuminating the imperfections all humans have. For all time, mankind has been imperfect and shadowed by pride. This passage beautifully demonstrates the ambiguities and allows the character to somewhat remain anonymous and shielded. This is a stellar example of the timeless nature of Whitman’s writing.
Whitman becomes a part of the city through his use of personification, the city’s beckoning, and his voluntary merging with it. In the poem “A Broadway Pageant,” Whitman discusses the buildings as if they were living. In line 21 he states, “The facades of the house are alive with people.” This outright uses of the word “alive” shows his intention that the building has personality and purpose and is a reflection of the people who live there. This use of personification is seen repeatedly throughout Whitman’s works. He refers to Manhattan as a female, when he states, “million-footed Manhattan, unpent descends to her pavements” (Line 9). This is another indication of the life that breathes within the city, according to Whitman. In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Whitman carves in paper, “Stand up, tall mass of Manhattan! – Stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!” (Stanza 11, line 6) He personifies these two cities through his use of the words, “Stand up.” He may intend to show that these two cities are a reflection of the people scurrying inside the city, who are engaged in their daily routines. Whitman continuously refers to the city in a manner that one would think it was a person and alive. This format that he uses creates a vivid picture of the time Whitman lived.
Throughout Whitman’s poetry, the city beckons him to become a part of the city. He creates a positive image of urban living. One example of the city beckoning Whitman is in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” when he writes, “I was call’d by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing” (Stanza 8, lines 2-3). The subject at this point in the work is the city. Whitman is “call’d” by the young men of the city. Earlier in this poem Whitman writes, “These and whatever belongs to them palpable show forth to me, and are seiz’d by me, and I am seiz’d by them, and friendlily held by them” (Line 23). The city seems to be calling to him and beckoning him in a friendly way. In his poetry, Whitman uses the city and urban living to create a positive environment for his writing. This positive environment for urban living in poetry was new in Whitman’s time (Trowbridge 5). Robert Moore, a critic of Walt Whitman wrote about the contrast of Whitman and Wordsworth. Wordsworth was a cautious skeptic about the redeeming values of urban living. But, “Whitman joyously embraces the duplicities and complexities of city life” (Moore 1). Whitman seems to be invited by the city in order to express what the city would like to communicate. Whitman became a translator. He saw what the city had to offer and wrote of it in his works.
Whitman voluntarily merges with the city in “A Broadway Pageant.” He writes, “I too arising, answering, descend to the pavement, merge with the crowd, and gaze with them” (Lines 27-28). He is showing his partnership with the city and his willingness to become a part of it. He refers to Manhattan as “my city” in line 31 of the same poem. This line not only shows Whitman’s merging with the city through his use of the words, “too,” “answering,” “merge,” and “with,” but also show that other people also are joining in and merging within the city. In lines 60-65 he explains that the “swarming marketplaces” are full of different types of people, such as the “mandarin, farmer, merchant, mechanic… fisherman, the singing girl… dancing girl… great poets and secluded emperors.” This spectrum of people gathers within the city, and all have been beckoned, as was Whitman. The specific use of “swarming” conjures up images of a beehive, or busyness. There is blind activity of a community working toward a common goal. A hive might work to project and protect a community of insects, and likewise, in this poem, this community of varied people is contributing to a living, breathing, thriving city. The city seems to be a full representation of all the different types of people living in it. Whitman seems to be proud to have been invited to be a part of the city. Robert Moore also writes in his criticism, “Whitman’s city possesses a soul with a certain and yet unknown destiny which must be recognized.” “For I too raising my voice join the ranks of this pageant” is Whitman’s declaration of devotion to the city’s activities (“A Broadway Pageant, line 75). The city seems to be a unified group that works toward a common goal, and Whitman is among those involved.
Whitman uses natural elements to make the city come alive in his works and to portray an ecological side of the city. In “A Broadway Pageant,” he states, “Geography, the world, is in (the city)” (Line 54). In his poetry, he seems to display that nature and the scenery of natural elements are a part of the city. He may be implying that there is natural life in the industrialized city when he uses the words “geography” and “world.” These words are universal and give an implication of the full living world. Whitman also uses specific natural elements in his writing. Even in the city, Whitman can view the “reflection of the summer sky in the water, the “haze on the hills southward”and“scallop-edged waves in the twilight,” as seen in the poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” These dramatic images show that even the city can be a positive, animated, and natural setting for poetry.
The natural elements in nature are not the only backdrops that can be used for poetry, in Whitman’s opinion. But the natural beauty can be found if one looks with a trained eye within the limits of any city. Even in the city of Manhattan where people are bustling about and crowding the streets, Whitman can view the “beautiful hills of Brooklyn.” Here, he is finding natural beauty even though he is confined within the city. He simply looks across the bay to the glistening hills across the way. He also writes in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” that he can “enjoy the sunset, the pouring in of the flood tide, the falling back to the sea ebb tide” (Lines 24-25). These things he can enjoy even while on the ferry full of crowds of men and women going about their busy lives. Although these busy city people may not appreciate the natural beauty around them, Whitman takes time to do so on what seems to be a daily basis. And, Whitman incorporates this natural beauty into his writings.
Whitman portrays the future generations of people as having a more positive outcome from the city. He writes, “I chant the new empire grander than any before … A thousand blooming cities… commerce opening, the sleep of ages having done its work” (Lines 79-86). This shows that Whitman also sees the city as one continuing to grow. It will be long-lasting, and may even last beyond the generations into thousands of years in the future. The “commerce opening” shows that the city will continue to flourish and expand. In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Whitman shows, “Others will enter the gates of the ferry… fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross… a hundred years hence… others will see them, will enjoy the sunset…” (Lines 22-25) Whitman is confident that the place where he is standing, in appreciation of the sunset and ferries shuttling back and forth others, for many generations, will stand. Future generations can pause in the hustle of the city life and have the exact experience Whitman confronted. Whitman was likely trying to preserve the experience of the city by writing about its beauty. By leaving this legacy in his writings, Whitman could pass down his outlook on nature within the city. “I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence; I project myself” (Lines 28-29). By saying “so many generations,” Whitman is referring to the many generations of children down the line. He is doing his part to continue the growth and prosperity of the city by writing about it. He may have intended that the city will survive and thrive for many, many years into the future. The use of the word, “project”, seems to imply that Whitman is looking forward to the future. He further states, “Others…look back on me, because I look’d forward to them.” (Line 29) Because Whitman was preserving that moment in time within the city and looking forward into time, he was allowing people of the future to have the ability to look back on what life was like in the city during his time. Some things never change, such as a sunset on the bay with the ferries on the water. Whitman had the foresight to understand that, and thankfully, wrote of it for all future generations to appreciate.
Whitman may have been optimistic that others would enjoy the same timelessness of the sunset and not be too busy for such simple pleasures. Whitman himself may have been trying to preserve these natural elements for future generations. Some would say he has succeeded, since he wrote about them, and his works are being read today. By writing these words, people all over have, for generations, enjoyed that sunset without being on the bay of Manhattan. The “scallop-edged” waves can be vibrantly imagined when these words are read. Whitman’s way of writing about the city causes the reader to properly understand the way of life in Whitman’s time. Every reader has the ability to read about the city’s ability to become engaging, the natural elements within an urban backdrop, and longevity.
The urban environment in Whitman’s writings was, indeed, new in his time. Previously, Wordsworth, a famous poet of the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth century, wrote of his negativity towards the city and the crowded streets. Wordsworth believed that the city would discontinue literature, writing, and imagination (Moore 1). Whitman, however, changed this popular view in his works. Not only was Whitman’s positive portrayal of the city branded a new idea, but also his explicit use of sexual images were astonishing and shocking in his century.
Whitman shocked his audiences with his publication of blatant sexual images, descriptions of his personal desires for women, and his longing for intimacy with men.
Whitman was the first renowned poet to describe sexuality with such specificity (Wikipedia 1). He was the forerunner of sexual ideas and attitudes (Bluestein 1). In “A Woman Waits for Me,” Whitman writes, “yet all were lacking if sex were lacking, or it the moisture of the right/ man were lacking./ Sex contains all,/ bodies… the seminal milk… all the passions…” (Lines 2-7). This vivid description of sex was an innovative approach to writing in Whitman’s time. His mere use of the words, “sex,” “bodies,” and “seminal milk” were outrageous to his audiences. No author prior to him had outwardly described sexuality in such a blatant manner. In lines 40-42 he notes, “I dare not withdraw what has so long accumulated within me. Through you I drain the pent-up rivers of myself… the drops I distil upon you….” Whitman is specifically referencing the spilling of his seed, his seminal fluid, during sexual intercourse. Such a direct reference to such a personal subject was appalling. Although he was speaking in the context of sharing his seed for future generations, the implications of sexual activity in such a direct way were a new concept for readers of the time. They did not accept it nor like it. Whitman continued to explore sexuality within his writings in spite of public criticism (Bluestein 1). In “The Sleepers,” Whitman reflects, “Perfect and clean the genitals previously jetting, and perfect and clean the womb cohering” (Stanza 18, lines 8-9). Using the words “genitals” and “womb” leave no room for imagination for the reader. Although Whitman may have been using these terms in this poem to purely describe an interaction of the “soul,” some scholars believe Whitman was unembellished, and indeed intended the poem to be about sexual activity. Gene Bluestein, a modern critic of Whitman, presents his view that Whitman was literal in his works. He agrees that Whitman was a pioneer in the development of poetic techniques, and that he was a forerunner of contemporary sexual ideas and attitudes (Bluestein 1). However, Bluestein believes that Whitman’s vivid verbs and astonishing nouns were literal and actually referred to Whitman’s possible homosexuality. The verb choice of “jetting” and “cohering” from the previous passage were probably meant to show the soul’s actions when read in context; however, on an unvarnished level, the jetting and cohering of these personal body parts are certain to signify sexual intercourse.
Whitman did not cease to describe sexual activity in his writing. He expressed his personal experiences and sexual activities with women. One example is in “A Woman Waits for Me.” In lines 16-17 of this verse, Whitman inscribes, “I will go stay with her who waits for me, and with those women who are … sufficient for me… and do not deny me. I draw you close to me, you women. They refuse to awake at the touch of many man but me.” Whitman is explicitly sharing his desire for the flesh of women. This poetry was way beyond the comfort level of the readers in his time. Rick Norton, another critic of Whitman, believes that “Whitman is America’s greatest embarrassment… (Whitman believes that) the American ideal of universal equality is inherently homosexual” (Norton 1). A result of Whitman’s blatant use for “celebrating reality” which included sex, according to Norton, was for him to be “branded as an obscene writer throughout his lifetime” (Norton 4). However, Whitman may have been accurate and thorough in his writing. He was probably several decades before his time regarding the appreciation and acceptance of his work. Although Whitman is uninhibited when he speaks of the women waking to “his touch,” this entire verse could be construed to be metaphorical and not literal. If the women were interpreted to be words, then Whitman was the only “man” who could wake the words so he could have his way with them.
Whitman also seems to be deliberate when he describes his sexual experience with a women when he engraves in line that he “dare not withdraw until (he) deposits” within her. This can be interpreted to be a representation of a male depositing sperm into a female. His candid description of his desire to do this was not an acceptable topic for poetry during Whitman’s life. There is no room to misunderstand what Whitman wrote of when he inscribed these obvious interactions. Whitman does not impede his desire to write about his interactions with women, nor did he hinder his writing about relations with men.
Many of Whitman’s writings are also spattered with sexual interactions with men. In “The Sleepers,” Whitman recollects, “He whom I call answers me, and takes the place of my lover, he rises with me silently from the bed. His flesh was sweaty and panting. I feel the hot moisture yet that he left me” (Lines 56-57). Whitman is clearly describing a male lover when he uses the words “his and “he.” He is being passionately summoned in the night by some male figure. The words “flesh,” “sweaty,” “panting,” and “hot moisture” leaves a vivid image in the reader’s mind of what male-to-male interactions were occurring in the middle of the night. Whitman may be describing a sexual innuendo with someone more attractive than his lover. This language was not only shocking for readers of the time because it was sexual in nature, but also because it was taboo (Bluestein 2). It seemingly describes homosexual behavior. In lines 88-91 of “The Sleepers,” Whitman resounds, “I see a… swimmer… naked…His brown hair lies close…I see his white body.” Whitman is aroused by this beautiful specimen of a man. He appreciates the man’s “white body” and marvels at the athletic build of his “swimmer.” The mere thought of Whitman being attracted to a man in a sexual way, even today, is inviolable in the mainstream of literature. When Whitman notices the details, such as the “brown hair,’ he may be expressing an affinity for the features of his “lover.” When that man “lies close,” Whitman may be implying that they are resting together. This could be a direct reference to a forbidden act of homosexual love. Later in “The Sleepers,” Whitman adds to his repertoire of forbidden homosexual acts. He shares, “The breath of the boy goes with the breath of the man” (Stanza 20, line11). This can be construed to mean that the man and the boy are sleeping together and engaging in homosexual behavior. It could also mean that the breathing patterns of the two impassioned males are in unison. These ideas were shocking to imagine by most of Whitman’s contemporary readers. According to Gene Bluestein, there are three reasons why Whitman used sex as a literary theme. The first is that he used it as a shock value; the second is that it was used as a symbol of the poet’s creativity, and the third is that it is used “as a translation of Emerson’s approach to the scholarly epiphany” (Bluestein 3).
Assuming that Whitman was not literal in his approach to the male-male relationships in this poem, the men and boys in this work could be construed to mean words in the English language. Whitman’s relationships to the words, which are described as males, are close, intimate, and endearing. He loves the words, seeks them in the night, holds them close, and appreciates their features. Whitman probably understood the longevity of the writings he created and the legacy he left.
Although Whitman shouldered mounds of criticism by his contemporary readers during his lifetime, he was actually ahead of his time. Plainly, one would read the explicit sexual behavior to describe intercourse with women and men. For the average reader, Whitman wrote literally and intended the writings to depict sexual images and behaviors. For the scholars, however, Whitman’s writings have a deeper meaning. It is not about sex at all. Whitman’s love affair is not about the young maidens he stole away for in the night or the virile men that he spent time with on the sly. Whitman’s love affair was with his language, the expression and use of words. Even Gene Bluestein, although a firm believer in Whitman’s literal sexuality in his works and homosexuality wrote, “we need to recall that Whitman was also a committed symbolist who believed that truth lay only in indirection rather than direct statement” (Bluestein 2). Words, to him, were the males and females of his dreams, passions, and adventures. Through words would he “deposit” the seeds of his legacy and grow “new artists, musicians, and singers, perfect men and women” (“A Woman Waits for Me” lines 45-46). Whitman did not always speak directly when he wrote. His excessive use of sexual images was only a tool for finding universality and timelessness for his writings. The legacy he intended to live was not literally through his “seeds,” but through his poetry that he left for the generations to enjoy and learn from.
Whitman has distinguished himself by being innovative in his use of sex as a literary theme, his use of urban living as a positive environment for poetry, and formatting. It not only was Whitman’s delivery, formatting, text, and style that made his poetry so unique and innovative, it was also the about the things he wrote. Similar to another renowned poet, Shakespeare, Whitman was not truly appreciated during his lifetime. It was not until years after his writings and decades after his life that scholars actually appreciated his work. It would be curious to discover what writers or dreamers living now are unrecognized for their work. Many dreamers may be isolated in their hazy thoughts, fervently struggling to discover who they are. Their writings may survive a single year, or they may last for centuries. Their key to a continued existence in their writings may lie in their innovative styles, images, and format.
one word! Bravo!!!
What a great poem! I love walt whitman, spec in the note book. I love that movie. “The best love is the love that awaykens your soul” SUPERBRA! love // Anna-Karin
this is certainly not one of his best poems. *sad face*
i honestly love this poem it’s by far one of my favorites by whitman.
I’m not a big Walt Whitman fan, but I do love this poem because it, speaks to my sense of indiviuality and patriotism at the same time….I love it…great poem
WOW!!!!! Huck Gutman, you really outdid yourself interpreting your perspective of this beginning! I loved how you put this puzzling poem into logical words! …..maybe u could do the same for the rest of them ((i need them))………lol!!
The opening poem of the final edition of LEAVES OF GRASS is clearly not one of the greatest of Whitman’s poems — I’d say Song of Myself, Out of the Cradle, As I Ebb’d, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, The Wound Dresser (and several other poems from Drum-Taps) and some of the Calamus poems are the best.
But this opening poem is nonetheless remarkable, for what it does, in the first two lines, is highlight Whitman’s awareness of the boldness and originality of his enterprise. He raises the question, essential for Americans then as today, for all people in all nations: how can one be a self, a separate person, and at the same time be a citizen, a member of a group that also has an identity.
His answer, that he is and has a self, but that he can also speak about a larger ‘belonging,’ a sense that he is one of many, a part of a whole (I love the use, in this most American of poets, of that French ‘En-masse,’ which literally means the whole massed together).
That dual sense, of the self (Song of Myself begins, “I celebrate myself”) and of the social whole (be it the United States Whitman so dearly loved, or the whole of humanity, which he also loved), is central to the entirety of Leaves of Grass. Which is why this is an appropriate beginning.