Song of Myself: Section 1 - Summary & Analysis

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I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.


I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

      These lines from the opening section of Song of Myself introduce the theme of the long poem. It is a study of the poet himself. Indirectly it is a study of all humankind. His ‘self’ is all-inclusive. While singing of himself he is singing the glory of all humanity. He always stresses on the reciprocal identity of views between human beings. He sees himself in others. Whatever is within him, he finds it in others. Similarly, he proclaims that whatever belongs to others is to be found in his ‘self’. Hence, the poem has an all-embracing universal theme.


      This epoch making opening section of the Song of Myself introduces the poet’s epic Leaves of Grass. What the poet is to deal with is depicted here.

      The poet considers no other subject as prominent to deal with as one’s own self. A reader of Whitman knows this is not the ‘end purpose’ of the poet. While talking of himself, he embraces all selves. The individual becomes a whole entity inculcating the entire mankind within itself. He rises to mystic heights taking the reader along with him. The different sections are the varied steps, which uplift the reader’s thinking to the profound thoughts of the poet.

      Many critics consider Song of Myself as a study in mysticism. James E. Miller said of it: “By any standards Song of Myself is one of the great long poems in the language. Its very length, however, has sometimes worked against its popularity, particularly as it seemed to lack coherence and direction. But it is now generally agreed that Song of Myself has a structure, and there is in it some kind of progression, not aimless wandering.”


      This opening section has an epical touch, in stating the theme of the Epic. He will sing about himself. He identifies himself with the others and hence he will sing automatically about others also. He assumes that his beliefs, his ideas, will be there in others also. The poet thus establishes a friendly rapport between himself and the others. After this firm foundation of self-awareness, and assumption, that the ‘within’ of all individuals are alike, the poet says:

...I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass...

      He invites his soul to recline in the arms of nature and observe her minutely. He begins to observe and appreciate everything in
nature starting from a blade of grass. The spear of grass offers several suggestions to the poet. It enthralls him to see the greatness of God who also made it while creating many other bigger things of life. The grass seemed to throw open the gates leading to the road of mysticism. The poet travels on it. This idea of mysticism recalls William Blake’s line to the tiger:

Did He who make the lamb make thee?


      There is an autobiographical touch when he talks of himself. He says he is thirty-seven years old, when the self-realization dawned on him. He proclaims he is made up of the soil and the air he breathes. Not only he, his ancestors were also made up of it. He considers nature as the best teacher. This reminds one of Wordsworth’s lifelong attachment and dedication to nature. Wordsworth wanted to maintain the same kind of childhood appreciation of nature throughout his life-time. In a similar tone, Whitman says he would like to be healthy and active throughout his life-time.

      He is of the opinion that schools and educational institutions have their way in molding personalities. But he does not want those dogmas to hamper him from direct communion with nature. He wishes his soul to be in harmony with the soul of nature. Though there is diversity in nature, there is yet a harmony in it. He wants man to appreciate this.


      The “I” of this section introduces not only the poet, but the Modern Man, the American, the democratic citizen. He sings of himself, and celebrates the entire humanity in that ‘self’. The ‘grass’ symbolizes separateness in unity, a sort of individual identity in unity, which is the basic essential of democracy. The “I” of the poem weaves a web of associations. The poem is the search for the achievement of a truly living identity. The “I” is capable of a whole existence and also of standing apart, observing both its own complications and those of the world.

      The poet in a light, happy mood introduces the theme of his epoch making poetry in this opening section. James E. Miller aptly said: “In Song of Myself the poet magnifies himself. But the self-celebration is to serve as a signal for each man to discover his own divine selfhood. Song of Myself represents an awakening of the self, a coming to consciousness for the first time of the real meaning of being alive and in the flesh, of seeing and hearing, of tasting and feeling. This awakening to consciousness penetrates beyond the senses. It dives deep within, and it soars far beyond, and it discovers secrets and uncovers mysteries - the eternity and infinity of the self, the glories of the body and soul, the completion of life through death; when the poet says

I now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, he is purposefully juxtaposing his physical birth with his new birth in

      The identification for the first time of his selfhood - a birth into a new consciousness miraculously brought about by leaning and loafing and observing a spear of summer grass.

      The grass becomes a graphic representation of Whitman’s central concept of democracy-individuality in balance with the mass, distinguished singleness in harmony with massive grouping. The spear of summer grass symbolizes the miracle of the Universe. It launches the poet on a mystic journey. The silent spear of grass unravels the mystery of the universe.

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