Songs of Myself 2 Themes Essay

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American Democracy Whitman's poetry is significant because it is an artistic embodiment of the ideals of democracy, freedom, and revolution; the ideals on which the United States was founded and for which it fought during the Civil War. He recognized that America undertook a unique democratic experiment, one which was not at all certain to succeed. Whitman's poetry, like America's politics, broke the established form and structure. It relied not on tradition but on innovation. Whitman's poetry idealized traveling, searching, and exploring. This mirrored the American landscape of the nineteenth century. During Whitman's lifetime, the United State grew from 22 states to 44 and acquired most of the territories that would later become the remaining six states. America was a wilderness, and Whitman sought to celebrate what was wild and what was natural about the land and the people that inhabited it. As the country traveled West, so did Whitman's poetry. It was an attempt to encapsulate an American spirit that crossed a vast landscape and was common to all people in the nation. Individuality vs. Collectivity In "Song of Myself," Whitman admits that his poetry is inconsistent. He acknowledges that he contradicts himself. The reason, he says, is that "I contain multitudes." Whitman's work embodies two ideals which seem to oppose each other: the first is his notion of the self, the second is his idea of the tribal, or collective, spirit of America. Whitman sings odes to the individual, and lifts up self-discovery as the highest ideal of the individual. But the self, inconsistent on its own, must also battle with the needs of society. It is both physical and spiritual and Whitman attempts to reconcile these differences. This duality, for Whitman, is mystical and mysterious. The speaker is both the individual and the microcosm of society - he contains multitudes. Whitman

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