Analysis of the Theme of Human Nature in Walt Whitman's Poetry

Categories: Walt Whitman

As the new world developed into a vastly growing nation, the spread of ideas and influence from Europe pushed its way into the colonies, and what would soon become the Unites States of America. Government structure and criticism of human behavior was constantly challenged throughout the growth of the America. This was an advantage for many artists to take ownership of their craft and bring out their message to the audience. Many of those who moved over across the Atlantic arrived to a new start to life, filled with what was hoped to be as a new beginning and a more optimistic society.

Even though that may not have been the case initially for the growth of the country, this new slate was the beginning to how America would claim itself. Walt Whitman was one of many poets at the time who’s work helped capture the potential future of America. His work touched upon views of political progression and unity, and its resemblance to the unity of nature and life.

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His work was the start to a new foundation, promoting freedom of expression and self-worth.

When describing Walt Whitman’s work, the reader can experience an overflow of powerful feelings relating to the idea of man and nature. Whitman describes the importance of the identification of oneself, and an individual’s relationship to the rest of the world. He perceives the idea of “self” as a spiritual entity with can never remain constant due to the influx of ideas and change affecting it from the rest of the world, or the universe.

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To Whitman, our “self” is both influenced by our individual actions, as well as our relationship to the rest of the universe and its actions towards us. He emphasis our individual existence as a contributor towards the function of the world, but also that our existence is not merely a number. Described in his most famous work Song of Myself, our very scent is an, “aroma finer than prayer,” (Whitman, line 29) and our own knowledge more power than, “churches, bibles, and all the creeds.” (Whitman, line 30) The houses we build and the families we make all come from the same family tree sprouting from a common root. Every aspect of our spiritual and physical existence, from “the atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air…” (Whitman, line 6) all comes back around to its origin. Therefore, if we all come from the same beginning we must, “accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.” (Whitman, line 10-12) Whitman’s expresses strong views towards the development of a democracy, which went against his time with other European poets whose poetry became increasingly associated with nationalism. The foundation of which America was established upon gave Whitman the right to criticize the idea of nationalism and its inapplicability towards America. He openly critics, “I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard/Nature without check with original energy.” (Whitman, lines 13-14) for he values the freedom of speech, hence what the Unites States is crafted upon. His freedom of expression is expressed through the work he writes, hence extending his views onto the world, sounding his “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” (Whitman, line 34) Besides writing about the indescribable beauty of nature like many poets did during his time, he described nature as not only as sacred, but in a lot of ways similar in its wild features to humanity’s untamed ways. Nature cannot be kept quiet, for it is its own “self,” in what Whitman wants to extend towards humanity and our time to claim the possession of “self.”

In comparison to European poets in the late nineteenth century, Whitman’s poetry differed in its short and direct structure and style, crafting a uniqueness only seen in his work. Similarly to European poets such as Friedrich Schlegel, both were their own creators in creation to tying romanticism in literary work. In Schlegel’s case, he was credited for using the term “romantic” to describe his work, making him one of the first artists to combine emotional connotation into an imaginative form throughout his writings. His work introduced the idea of individualism, spontaneity, freedom from rules, and beliefs that imagination is superior to reason than devotion to beauty. He displayed these romantic views, whereas Whitman went on to extend them. However, both poets provided society a different glance at life, as opposed to what was already spoon-fed to them throughout history. Their new ways of thinking brought influence into what the future of America and Europe would look like, for once again times brought change but this time would bring some hope, especially after the break of the civil war in the states.

Many forms of art immerged once again, just as it had done during the Renaissance and in history after. This new form of art considered humanity’s relationship towards nature, which found to be easily described through text such as the poetry that took place. Though many poets went about publishing their work, the ones that were able to stand out provided a voice, such as Walt Whitman. He created and started a new style of art in comparison to the previously established poetic norms. The traditional way of writing poetry was discarded in his work and turned in favor of a more personal voice. His work seems to touch the reader directly, in lines that didn't rely on rigid meter and instead moved with open arms. Through his inner conflicts, and the conflicts of many common Americans, Whitman was able to allow his work to speak for them. He became not only a writer, but a voice for the majority of Americans who weren’t associated with higher class. He helped to expose the fears that many everyday Americans had to face, therefore allowing his work to be attainable and accessible. His universal language provided a solution to difficult situations, and the hope of growing from them.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Analysis of the Theme of Human Nature in Walt Whitman's Poetry. (2024, Feb 09). Retrieved from

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