Animals: Poem by Walt Whitman - Summary & Analysis

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I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long,
They do not sweat and whine about their condition.
They do not lie awake in the dark arid weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied-not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
None is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth,
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.


      Introduction. These ten lines form part of the 32nd passage of the long poem of Walt Whitman entitled Song of Myself that had earned great popularity among readers of poetry. Some of the ideas expressed by the poet may not be endorsed by some thinkers, and still some may be very unpalatable to many, but as Voltaire had said long ago we must also say “I disagree with you but I shall defend your right to say it even risking my life”.

      Summary. The poet wistfully looks at the Animals which, he feels, are so placid arid self-contained and says that he would live with them. He then contrasts the carefree outlook of the animals with the worried whining and sweating life of human beings. The Biblical statement about the birds and animals of the forest not taking a thought for the morrow must have been at the basis of this trend of thought of the poet. Of course he digresses much from the central theme of that statement of the Bible and encompasses within it various other extraneous features as well. The animals do not become disgruntled like the human beings. Men commit a lot of sins and blunders and repent for them. They take pride in possessing various things. They worship their ancestors and cringe and curry favor from persons in higher positions and greater influence. All these things are not present in the animals. Further, they always harp on the fact that man has a duty towards his Creator the Almighty. The poet says that he is sick of this over-zealousness of human beings and heaves a sigh of relief that the animals are not like them.

      Critical Analysis. The attitude of the poet admiring the animals for their carefree nature and unafflicted absence of solicitude for their own future happiness is not something that will be encouraged by sensible people. Man’s thinking mind, reasoning, volition, emotional reactions to the environment and complex patterns of social everyday life, all these lift him up to a plane far greater and nobler than that of the animals. No man in his senses will willingly accept a life of drudgery of the animals. A desire to escape from the burdensome oppression of worries and anxieties of life is understandable but it does not merit voluntary acceptance and nurturing within. Troubles and failures are touchstones that guage the genuineness of our efforts to succeed in life. They are challenging gauntlets and they must be faced with manliness.

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