One’s-Self I Sing: by Walt Whitman - Summary & Analysis

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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 atone 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.


      Summary. One’s-Self I Sing, is a short lyric first appeared in 1867. It aptly forms a ‘Prelude’ to his Epic Leaves of Grass. The essence of his Leaves of Grass is to be found in this splendid, and profound lyric. ‘Equality and fraternity’ are the themes which he elaborately treats in his poems. While singing of ‘One’s Self’ he sings of the ‘Modern Man’. David Daiches rightly says: “He is-he becomes-the people he observes”

Of physiology from top to toe I sing
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse.

      Whitman is the voice of the Muse. His function is to sing as a poet of Humanity and Universe in general. He shows that the job of the muse is not just to sing of beauty or brains of people but sing of every aspect of the human being.

      These lines envisage the democratic spirit of the poet. He believed that all are equal and equally dignified. The Muse is not biased towards one aspect or the other of a human being. But a human being as a whole entity inspires the poet. Whitman is seen here as the poet of Humanity. The theme of describing the entire humanity is mentioned and this is dealt in detail in his ‘Leaves of Grass’. The lines form the gist of the poem.


      James. E. Miller said Inscriptions opens with One’s Self I Sing - a succinct statement of the thematic heart of Leaves of Grass... which is the modern new world epic to serve America as the great epics of the past served their countries. “These lines prove true of this lover of humanity. This lyric shows Whitman as a staunch lover of democracy. He talks of himself ‘as a simple separate person’. His self is all inclusive. Edward Dowden rightly said: “Men of every class are interesting to Whitman ... No single person is the subject of Whitman’s song or can be. The individual suggests a group, and the group a multitude, each unit of which is as interesting as every other unit, and possesses equal claims is to recognition. Hence the recurring tendency of his poems is to become catalogs of persons and things. Selection seems forbidden to him, if he names one race of mankind the names of all other races press into his page, if he mentions one trade or occupation, all other trades and occupations follow ..... Men and women are seen En-masse, and the mass is viewed not from a distance, but close at hand, where it is felt to be a concourse of individuals”.

      The En-masse appeals to him. Every individual man or woman in the En-Masse is equally important to him. Individuals, to whatever walks of life they belong to or whatever their nationality or religion, are noble and superior to him. ‘Male’ ‘Female’, ‘Life’, ‘Form’ used in the capital letters convey the reference to his Universal Approach. It applies to all beings in the world.

      Merely brains or appearances are not treated by the poet but he considers every part of the human being equally important. The human form is treated as a whole. So also every aspect, everything in society and life has a meaning. All the parts are equally important. They go to make a sound society. Such societies are important for the welfare of the world.

      He finds pleasure in singing of the dignity and nobility of life and human beings. He is a mystic poet. He feels that there is a divine hand, a Holy Mastermind, controlling the activities of the mortals. He sings of the various shades of life brimming with ‘passion, pulse and powers’. He upholds the idea that everything is superior and has a meaning in this life and universe. He believes in equality, fraternity and living in peace with one another. What he wants to deal with in Leaves of Grass is given an insight into, in this short thought-filled lyric.

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