Walt Whitman, a prominent American anti war poet, who lived during the times of civil war witnessed the condition around him with his own eyes and transformed it into literature which still stands relevant to our lives today. The advent of capitalism during this time and its rapid proliferation brought with itself several ramifications. Human concerns were relegated and principles were sidelined. In response to all the atrocities, the people looked around and turned a blind eye towards them. They stood as detached observers who did not try to bring about a change. The poem ‘ I sit and look out ‘ reflects the 21st century apathy of a modern observer. It is written in free verse and makes use of the effect known as symbolism. The basic tone of the poem is extremely pessimistic and the poet uses strong visual impactful words, which conjure up to create a strong impact as well as a strong apocalyptical imagery in our minds.
Right from the beginning of the poem, one can feel the poet’s disillusionment of the things of the world. He states that he sits and looks out upon ‘ all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame’. The words used in these first two lines are extremely pessimistic and negative in nature. People in today’s world do many things that are against the normal norms. These deeds are committed due to their deviant behavior. When such people realize their mistakes, they have within themselves a feeling of shame and humiliation, which slowly eats away their soul. Also, the word ‘oppression’ gives us an insight into how humans today oppress fellow human beings for completely futile reasons. This shame and oppression ultimately gives rise to a feeling of sorrow accompanied by extreme distress and regret. He also goes on to say that he hears ‘ secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds done’.
This refers to the soldiers who have been forced to fight and kill in war for their country. It highlights the extreme mental stress that these young men encounter. In the second quarter of the poem, the poet highlights how women in the world are misused and are treated as mere objects for sexual gratification. He sees ‘ in low life, the mother misused by her children. He states that the ‘mother’ who had gifted her children with a wonderful life and had nourished them is now left to die. She lies alone ‘ dying, neglected and gaunt’. He also sees‘ the wife misused by her husband’ and dubs the husband as ‘ a treacherous seducer of young women’. All this shows us how, despite being in the 21st century, the way the women are treated has not yet changed. Even today, women are the least educated, most oppressed and the most objectified part of the society. Most importantly the poet highlights the callous nature of relationships in today’s world and in the new generations. His eyes ‘ mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love ‘which are trying to be hidden.
For the poet these are mere sights, and he does not posses any insights regarding them. He also sees ‘ the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny’. He also talks about martyrs and prisoners. All these are the by products of deadly war. In a gruesome imagine, we imagine sailors throwing out people out of the ship so that more food is left for the remaining. It can be interpreted as the policy of the survival of the fittest. The irony here is that, something that is supposed to life giving (sea/water) is taking the same life away. The final thing that the poet observes is how ‘ arrogant persons’ cast ‘ slights and degradation’ and oppress ‘the poor’ and ‘Negroes’. These people are treated in an inhuman way and are subjected to penury, deterioration and severe repression. The poet sees all this on earth, hears about them and yet remains silent.
This last line ‘ see, hear and am silent ‘ is perhaps the most significant line in the poem as it brings out the satirical view of the poet as he scorns the modern observer. The whole poem revolves around the theme of 21st century apathy. It is an indictment on society in general for its inability to facilitate meaningful change within itself. People in today’s world see many wrong things occurring around them. However, they don’t try to make a difference and remain unaffected and indifferent. They seem to be overly pre occupied with their own safety and comforts and have lost their moral sense of empathy. In this poem the poet assumes the role of a representative of the society and condemns our lack of apathy, unwillingness to act and our lack of courage to actually take a stand on theses issues.
He chastises the lack of moral valor in humans today, saying that we are too unconcerned to open our eyes to the world around us and make our own decisions. He makes an attempt to inspire emotions of disgust, anger and guilt but perhaps most of all, a sense of motivation. He hopes that this sense of motivation will allow the people to notice the deplorable condition, which they have put themselves in, and wants them to make an effort to make the world into a much harmonious place. Moreover, The real beauty of this poem is that, though it was written about a hundred years ago, it is still relevant in today’s world.