Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
The beginning of this poem establishes the Americanness in its subject, form and tone. Whitman begins the first section in a tone of boastful authority that underlies the tone of the whole poem. The reader is jolted into attention and is attracted towards the poet: "I celebrate myself, and sing myself'. The second line is even more daring and shocking; it gives an impression, at first, that the poet is almost presuming and conceited: "And what I assume, you shall assume". But then the third line quickly conveys the reason behind the arrogance; the poet is so proud and arrogant because "every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you". The very third line establishes identity between the reader and the poet. This is, as we will see very soon, a poem that celebrates the basic oneness of all people, the power of their life and freedom, their oneness with the nature also. The poem presents not merely a mind thinking or a voice speaking, but an entire body reclining on the ground, leaning and loafing, "observing a spear of summer grass". Whitman situates himself and his poem outdoors and outside convention and tradition. Radically democratic and explicitly sexual, the poem, from the very start, goes beyond even the extended bound of transcendentalist thought in its celebration of the relation between physical and spiritual, individual and universal. It is a poem of democracy and liberty, the liberty of expression, of life and even of frank declarations of emotions as well as rebellion and repressed desires including the sensual and sexual. Whitman begins the poem by asserting the idea of self and its identification with all selves, and its identification with all selves and emphasizing his belief in the interrelationship of all beings and all matter. This is the first indication of its theme of unity of all life and nature the inherent transcendence. In the 4th and 5 lines, the poet describes the physical setting; he is leaning, at ease, on a lawn observing a leaf of summer grass.
He then begins another impassioned expression about “my tongue", which is another symbol of expression (or the democrats, and also poetic, freedom of speech): "My tongue... my blood, formed from this soil...born here from... the same..." He probably means that he, like everyone there, is born from the same soil. He therefore will begin to express, and "hoping to cease not until death". This optimism and energy permeate the whole poem. One should remember that Whitman had begun to write this poem after hearing a lecture by Emerson in which he had "called for an authentic American culture to celebrate the common, everyday things in American life". The next daring declaration is: "I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard/ Nature without check, with original energy". Here nature means the actual human nature as well as the physical nature. These two lines define the poem, more than any critical phrases could. Whitman reaffirms his belief in the essential integrity and goodness of all act, sensations, and responses. The body is not to be denied, for it is equal to identifiable with the spirit. The poem's essence is precisely based on the fact that it deals (harbors) with everything, whether it be called good or bad, moral or immoral, by the (restrictive) conventions.
Shrestha, Roma. "Song of Myself Section 1 by Walt Whitman: Summary and Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 21 Mar. 2018, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/song-of-myself-summary-analysis-section-1.html.