Summary of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, Section 1

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.

Summary

In this opening section of the Song of Myself, in the manner of the epic poets, the poet states his theme. He will sing of himself, and, as he finds complete identity between himself and others, in singing of himself he would also sing of others. He is confident that his beliefs and ideals are also the beliefs and ideals of others, and what belongs to him also belongs to others. Every particle, every element of which he is made, has also gone into the making of others. In other words, the poet derives his ego-centric self- confidence from the pantheistic faith that the inner essence of all is one and indivisible.

The poet then reclines idly and at ease in the midst of nature, and invites his soul to observe a blade of grass. In this way, the poet prepares himself for his mystical journey towards unity with the Absolute or divine. Lost in the contemplation of the blade of grass he would have a mystical experience.

His tongue, every part of his body, even the minutest one has been formed out of the soil on which he reclines and the air he breathes. Not only he, but also his parents and grandparents were formed out of these elements. He belongs entirely to Nature, and so there is no essential difference between him and the various objects of Nature. As others are also formed of the same elements, there is essential unity in all creation. He is now thirty-seven years old and he enjoys perfect health. His one hope is that he would continue to enjoy good health, and continue to work upto the very moment of his death.

For the time being, he will make no use of the teachings of religion and philosophy. They are good in their own way, but for the time being he would not like that they should interfere with his liberty, or come between him and nature. At the time, he wishes that his soul should be in harmony with the soul of Nature, and Nature should speak to him unhampered with all her pristine energy and power. From such a mystical communion with nature the poet would derive both power and wisdom, which would find expression in the sections which follow.

Thus in this short section appears the basic theme of the Song, as well as its basic symbol. The I stands not for the historical Whitman, for an individual with a distinct personality, but also for the average American, the modern democratic man. The ‘spear of grass’ symbolises here the procreant power of Nature, the creative urge that is at work through all Nature. The ‘grass’ also symbolises separateness in Union which is so characteristic of democracy. The poet is in a happy carefree mood, and prepares himself for his physical journey with confidence.

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