One's-Self I Sing: for Walt Whitman (Poem Analysis)

One's- Self I Sing


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.

Leaves of Grass ed, Sculley
Bradley 1954


The poem directly addresses the successive themes in Whitman's poems. The speaker begins by claiming that the poem is an ode to "One's- Self" - an individual. He then immediately expands the scope of the poem by applying it to individuals "en- masse," emphasizing the democratic nature of the work. According to this poem, Whitman's ensuing poetry will encompass both the individual and the collective, democratic mass, drawing many parallels between them. The speaker further asserts that he "sings" (or, as a poet, writes) about the body, about both men and women, about life and passion. The poem concludes with the idea of The Modern Man, an ideal of American society that Whitman hopes to attain through his poetry.


"One's- Self I Sing" is the first poem in Inscriptions, which is the first book of Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The poem sets the tone for the rest of the volume because Whitman introduces the themes that he, the poet, will "sing" about. The poem delves into themes of the self, the all- encompassing "I," sexuality, democracy, the human body, and what it means to live in the modern world. Though this poem is short, it alludes to the broad scope of ideas that Whitman will explore in the rest of the poems in Inscriptions and Leaves of Grass.

Whitman speaks to a general idea of self, a commonality between his personal identity—the Walt Whitman he so often casts as the protagonist in his poems—and the Democratic self, which is the collective identity that everyone shares. Whitman explains that the self is a shared experience between the poet and the reader. As members of a democratic society, all selves are intertwined—but conversely, each of these intertwined "selves" still retains his or her individuality.

The human body is also a common theme in Whitman's poetry. Here, it forms the crucial link that connects each individual self to the communal Democratic self. At the same time, the body is inextricably tied to Whitman's image of the soul. He believes that without the physical body, there is no soul. This is because the human body is the vessel through which the soul interacts with and experiences the world. Therefore, in Whitman's poetry, the human body is sacred and every individual human is divine.

Whitman goes on to introduce the theme of gender, specifying that he treats men and women equally in his poems. "The Female equally with the Male I sing," he declares. Whitman considers the woman equal to the man because his view of gender is tied to his definition of the soul. To Whitman, women are just as sacred as men because, despite their physical differences, they are all human (and souls are free from gender). In later poems, particularly in "I Sing the Body Electric," Whitman delves deeper into his ideas about gender.

“One’s Self I Sing” is a poem by Walt Whitman, published in 1867 as the first poem for the final phase of Leaves of Grass. Although the general attitude towards the poem was not favorable, in July 1855 Whitman received the famous letter from Ralph Waldo 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 the first phase of Leaves of Grass was published in 1855 most of the press was unaware of the piece, but if there was an opinion about the poem it was mostly negative. According to the Boston Intelligencer, Leaves of Grass was a “heterogeneous mass of bombast, egotism, vulgarity, and nonsense”.

Whitman celebrated the average American and altogether union and equality which differentiates it between stories of the time and of the past. Whitman speaks of individuality in the first lines. The combination of the “one” and the continuing of the “self” throughout the poem can be translated as, “everyman's self”. Whitman also speaks of freedom, identity, and all around brotherhood.

The theme changes in the three lines that follow 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 and inner strength, and potential. Throughout the entire poem, there is disagreement, such as, when the speaker says “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 is what he is conveying in the poem. The final line has the reader caught up in the difference between past heroes and the “modern man” which is just as powerful if one believes that it is so.

The first line is set in regular iambic pentameter, but the flow of the syllables in line two can be called “accentual or anapestic”. Critics noted Whitman’s form of triangular- shaped stanzas beginning with a short line followed by longer lines. Some have understood that by starting the poem off with a short line, the reader expects “regular” poetry which is relatable and understandable than Whitman's more experimental form.

Whitman’s third and final phase of Leaves of Grass was also known as the “inscriptions” section.

Poet introduction: WALT WHITMAN

Walt Whitman June, America's most influential and innovative poet, was born into a working- class family in West Hills New York a village near Hempstead Long Island on May 31st, 1819. He was the second son of Walter and Louisa Whitman a generational family of farmers in spring 1823, the family moved to Brooklyn New York and during this early period of Whitman's life, his family moved to a new house almost every year due to his father's profession. Walt attended a Brooklyn public school and was hardly an outstanding student he hated corporal punishment, a common practice in schools and one that he would attack in later years in his journalism and fiction, Most of Whitman's meaningful education came outside of school. He visited museums, went to libraries and attended lectures. His formal education ended at the age of 11 when he began working as an errand boy at a Brooklyn law firm throughout his life Woodman preferred the idlest nose to the grindstone laborer and it was this penchant for idleness that allowed him to be the keen observer and poet that he was. His employers encouraged him to read.

Whitman soon took the place of the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle by dedicating himself to journalism in these years he published little of his own poetry in fiction

In 1831 Whitman became an apprentice on the Long Island patriot where he learned the printing trade Whitman later continued this work at the start where he discovered his passion for writing however it was only during his stint as a schoolteacher in the 1840s that he began to write short stories influenced by a feud with his father many of his stories centered around a son being treated badly by his father.

Walt Whitman died in his home in Camden, New Jersey, on March 26, 1892. He is noted for his daring experimentation and his steadfast belief in democratic principles


Leaves of Grass collects dozens of poems that Whitman continuously revised over the last years of his life. As a whole, they explore themes of love, nature, spiritualism, and the soul, declaring that the body is one and the same as the soul.

Perhaps the best- known poem in Leaves of Grass is "Song of Myself," a long (and often sexual) poem about the body and soul. The "Myself" referred to in the poem stands both for the individual self and all of humanity.

Many shorter poems touch on the same themes as "Song of Myself," expanding on what Whitman argues throughout the work.

"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" was written just after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, as an elegy.


Utter: complete, absolute.

En- masse: in a group; all together.

Physiology: the branch of biology that deals with the normal functions of living organisms and their parts

Physiognomy: a person's facial features or expression, especially when regarded as indicative of character or ethnic origin.

Muse: (in Greek and Roman mythology) each of nine goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over the arts and sciences, or a bride of a poem, or inspiration, or poet.

Immense: extremely large or great

Divine: of, from, or like God or a god.

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