Walt Whitman: Poems

A Play of Sound and Silence

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

~ "Song of Myself"

He praises nature. He hails civilization. He upholds silence. He calls for unchecked and unformed sound. All of these tendencies are found in Walt Whitman's collection of highly descriptive poems. Superficially, Walt Whitman may seem to offer a somewhat flimsy philosophy in light of these inconsistencies, but it is through these contradictions that he develops a highly sophisticated approach to understanding the world. Throughout his collection Leaves of Grass, and primarily in the poem "Song of Myself", Whitman employs his perception of sound to express the electricity that flows throughout all aspects of life. Several of his poems reveal his hesitance concerning humanity's penchant for definitions and limitations. Rather than classify the living, Whitman becomes speechless before it, initially able to do little more than admire its splendor. His appreciation ends not with his silence, but rather emerges in his attempt to commune and mingle with nature and society through raw sound. Because of his status as a poet, Whitman must spread this sense of wonder to others and encourage them to...

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