Monday, February 28, 2011

Whitman’s Self and Song

Describing the Self is a difficult topic to complete or even complete to the fullest. It is sometimes awkward to focus entirely on one’s self, not only in writing but also in normal speech and conversation. However, Whitman captures himself in an apparently great way because, in his poem from his Leaves of Grass collection entitled “Excelsior,” Whitman asks question after rhetorical question wondering who could be more proud, happy, or benevolent, as examples, than he. Whitman does not show himself modestly, not even in the least. He thinks of himself as an almost godly figure (Whitman, “Excelsior”). He describes his persona as loved and lavished in friendship, wealth, and absolute perfection (Whitman, “Excelsior”).

In “O Captain! My Captain!,” Whitman examines another aspect of his Self by including sorrow in the story. The poor man, the narrator, is so excited to be landing once again after a dangerous trip out at sea because they have accomplished their goal, which is not specified. However, when the small commotion of coming into the dock settles, a gathering of eyes had settled on the lifeless body of the ship’s late captain, there on deck (Whitman, “O Captain!”). His Self is interfering with the common reaction to such a situation because the Self is mainly concentrated on the personal feelings and outlooks on life. Whitman is still overly excited about their success out at sea, but he needs to feel remorse for the loss of his trusty captain alongside the rest of his normal crew. In the final stanza of the poem, Whitman declares, “The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done; From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won” (Whitman, “O Captain!”). Clearly, his mission out to sea was victorious, and it is fair that he is happy of its success, but there is, literally, a dead man lying there on the same boat he is on.

Song is a factor of the common poem because of the rhyme scheme and the way the lines flow together. The meter with which Whitman writes is hardly ever common among each poem, despite being collected together in Leaves of Grass. For example, in “One Song, America, Before I Go,” Whitman uses absolutely no rhyme pattern or similar length of each line, but the song of which he speaks is of his love for the country as a whole, which slightly disagrees with his other poem, “Excelsior.” But, his Self seems to incorporate the song of some of his writings as well. His few rhymes match others in different lines and in varying places, and the point of his work with the Self is to analyze and focus on the personal being. This being has also created the poem itself, so song, in a sense, is the same as the Self. The song gives a poem its beauty, while the Self relies on harsh reality, much like the views of Realism. Without one another, the Self or song in the poem cannot stand up as a single, good poem. They actually rely on each other.

Works Cited

Whitman, Walt. “Excelsior.” 1900. Online. 24 Feb. 2011.
Whitman, Walt. “O Captain! My Captain!” 1900. Online. 24 Feb. 2011.
Whitman, Walt. “One Song, America, Before I Go.” 1900. Online. 24 Feb. 2011.

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