Walt Whitman: Poems

Whats the meaning behind "To A stranger"?

whats the meaning

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"To a Stranger" is similar to Whitman's earlier poem "To You." In both poems, Whitman expresses astonishment at the societal norm of polite reserve between strangers. "To You" questions why it is inappropriate to address a stranger if both parties are willing, but in "To a Stranger" the speaker interprets an unspoken connection with a stranger to mean that they shared a past life. Despite this connection, though, the speaker acknowledges that it would not be proper to directly address the stranger, simply because they are strangers. All he can do is hold onto the hope that their spiritual connection will lead to a physical connection in another life.

Whitman invokes the idea of the democratic self in this poem by leaving the stranger's gender indeterminate. Due to this lack of specificity, the stranger represents anyone and everyone. Whitman uses the ambiguity of the subject's identity to extend his tenderness towards humanity in general. Therefore, the connection between these strangers extends far beyond the boundaries of the speaker's own life.