One's Self I Sing

One's Self I Sing

One’s Self I Sing, by Walt Whitman, is not itself just a poem. “One’s Self I Sing,” is part of a larger piece of work known as, “Leaves of Grass,” and was published in 1881 as the first poem for the final group or phase of, Leaves of Grass. Whitman’s third and final group was known as the “inscriptions” section. As the first phase of Leaves of Grass became published in the year 1855 most of the press was unaware of the piece, but if there was an opinion about the poem it was mostly unpleasant because according to, “Boston Intelligencer’s,” “Leaves of Grass,” was a, “heterogeneous mass of bombast, egotism, vulgarity, and nonsense”. Even though the attitude towards the poem was not favorable in July 1855 Whitman received his famous letter from Emerson in appreciation of his words of strength, freedom, and power, as well as, “meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile and stingy Nature, as if too much handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our Western wits fat and mean”.



Though it has never been decided on Walt Whitman’s heterosexuality or homosexuality there is a certain time period in his life that he would agree to saying that neither friends nor family know anything about and recent research has report of a “scandal”. This so called “scandal” happened when Whitman was 22 and was publicly disgraced when he was accused of sodomy with a student, for which he was tarred, feathered, and physically forced to leave town. Whitman never discussed this incident specifically but he did mention that there had been issues between himself and the villagers in the towns in which he had taught. The only other known sexual conquest of Whitman’s was in 1848 when he was working in New Orleans as an editor and he supposedly had an affair which would now be considered homosexual.

By looking at Whitman’s writing it can help better support the idea of his inner fight between being homosexual and, or straight. Whitman wrote many pieces in the idea that he himself is the sophisticated teacher and the reader being his accepting and willing student in which passion and desire transpire. Nonetheless there isn’t much known about Walt Whitman’s sexual past other than through his translatable pieces in which a feeling of oneness, union, as well as, a troubled mind because of society and the non-acceptance of others.



One’s-Self I sing, a simple, separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word en-Masse.

Of physiology from top to toe, I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse,
   I say the Form complete is worthier far,
The Female equally with the Male I sing.

Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form’d, under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.[1]


As lines one and two are looked at from, “One’s Self I Sing,” it is apparent that the first line is set in regular iambic pentameter, but the easy flow of the syllables in line two can also be called, “accentual or anapestic”. Critics have also made note of Whitman’s form of triangular shaped stanzas beginning with a short line followed by longer lines. By starting the poem off with a short line this helps the reader to expect, “regular” poetry which is relatable and understandable.


According to Whitman he celebrated the average American as well as altogether union and equality which differentiates it between stories of the time and of the past. Whitman speaks of individuality in his first lines of, “One’s Self I Sing.” The combination of the “one” and the continuing of the “self” throughout the poem can be translated as, “everyman‘s self”. Continuing with the first two lines, Whitman also speaks of freedom, identity, and all around brotherhood/sisterhood. The theme changes in the next three lines when he references our spirit and physical body, our sexuality, male and female, and our wisdom. The final lines conclude with the idea of desire, physical strength, potential, and inner strength. Throughout the entire poem there is disagreement, such as, when the speaker say’s “simple” in the first line, “simple” meaning “not special,” and finishes the first line with “separate,” followed by the third line of en-masse, or togetherness. As the title is, “One’s Self,” not “Myself”, this already forms the bond between the reader and writer which again it’s what he is conveying in the poem. The final line of the poem has the reader caught up in the difference between past heroes and the now “modern man” which now is just as powerful if one believes that it so.


  1. ^ [1], Text of "One's Self I Sing" from 1884 edition of Leaves of Grass, Wilson & McCormick, Glascow, 1884.

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