Faces: Poem by Walt Whitman - Summary & Analysis

Also Read


      Introduction. Faces is a poem of about eighty-six lines divided into five sections of more or less equal lengths. While we move about in the world we come across hundreds of men and women with different types of faces with different features. No two faces are alike. Our reactions to these faces also cannot be called similar. Some we like, some we do not. Certain faces set us thinking a lot. Our poet has given a wonderful poem on this theme.

      Summary. Walking up and down along the pavements, or crossing the ferries in boats or riding in carriages by the roads the poet sees all sorts of faces evoking friendship, precision, caution, suavity, ideality etc. Some are ugly, some handsome, some kind and benevolent, some dreamy like an immobile rock, some devoid of good or bad and some like that of a wild hawk. The poet has no adverse reaction in his mind. He has no grievance. He accepts everything at the “face-value” because of his philosophical outlook. He finds in them -

The finish beyond which philosophy cannot go and does not wish to go.

      Critical Analysis. Democratic ideals in one should broaden one’s outlook in regard to everything in the community. It is not enough if we accept a particular form of government and be contented with it. The poet does not think that the faces constitute the “finale” of those persons. The face cannot be the ultimate conclusion or the closing chapter in regard to the individual possessing that face. For in that case the poet would not have rested contented.

      If one were to find fault with the faces one can list a number of defects like these -

This now is too lamentable a face for man.
Some abject louse asking leave to be, cringing for it,
Some milk-nosed maggot blessing what lets it wrig to its hole.
This face is a dog’s snout sniffing for garbage,
Snakes nest in that mouth, I hear the sibilant threat,
This face is a haze more chill than the arctic sea,
Its sleepy and wabbling icebergs crunch as they go.

      The poet gives many other similar ugly features in some faces. The idea is that these ugly faces have beneath them “beautiful souls.” In the next (third) section the poet gives examples of “handsome, detested or despised face.” He strikes a note of warning in the opening lines:

Features of my equals would you trick me with your creased and cadaverous march?
Well, you cannot trick me
I see your rounded never erased flow,
I see neath the rims of your haggard and mean disguises,
Splay and twist as you like, poke with the tangling forces of fishes or rats,
You'll be unmuzzled, you certainly will.

      Further on, the poet says that he espied sparks of divinity in “the face of the most smeared and slobbering idiot they had at the asylum.” The poet says with satisfaction that he “knew for my (his) consolation what they knew not.” This reveals the faith of the poet in a divine plan to sow seeds of perfection even in the meanest of creations under the sun. As the evolution proceeds ahead they become fruitful and progress to a perfect state.

      In the fifth and last section the poet paints the ideal picture of “The justified mother of men”, “the melodious character of the Earth.” The poet says he is fully contented on seeing the old face of the mother of many children as she sits in an arm-chair under the shaded porch of the farm house.

The sun just shines on her old white head
Her ample gown is of cream-hued linen.
Her grandsons raised the flax, and her grand-daughters spun it with the distaff and the wheel.

Previous Post Next Post