Leaves of Grass Copy


  • Wrote during the age of American Romanticism, at the intersection of transcendentalism and realism;
  • Creator of the free verse;
  • Believed in a symbiotic relationship between the poet and society.

Romanticism in Whitman’s poems:

  • Most important American Romantic poet;
  • Defined the American spirit in poetry;
  • Democratic outlook;
  • Simple language, poetry is destined for all readers;
  • Romantic themes:
    • Nature
    • Freedom
    • Democracy
    • Imagination
    • The individual.

Transcendentalist influence in Whitman’s poetry:

  • Subjective individualism;
  • Sense of communion with nature;
  • The naturalistic subject matter of poems.

Realist approach in Whitman’s poetry:

  • Sense of democracy;
  • Addressing the everyday man, the poetry creates an immediate feeling of comfort.



Literary Form – the volume belongs to no particular form of poetry


Main theme: the exploration and celebration of the poet’s self. The notion of self is physical and spiritual. The self is synonymous with the man’s identity, his being, which differs from the selves of all other men, although it can identify with them. The self is a part of the Divine Soul. Whitman’s self is not an expression of egotism, as his “I” is a universal concept.

Secondary themes:

  • Democracy
  • The American nation and the potential it holds
  • Life’s mysteries: birth, death, rebirth, resurrection, reincarnation.

Poems from “Leaves of Grass

1. “Inscriptions

The number of poems in the series varies depending on the edition;

  • Dedicatory poems that form a preface to the main body of texts;
  • The arrangement of the Inscriptions mirrors the general arrangement of the volume: a natural biographical sequence from youth to death.
  • One’s Self I Sing” – the poem is dedicated to the wholeness of the human being (the unity of self and individuality).
  • As I Ponder’d in Silence” – correlation between Whitman’s poetry and traditional poetry; his themes are not traditional.
  • For Him I Sing” – the ideal man and the ideal poetry.
  • I Hear America Singing” – the American nation is based on its craftsmen and its labourers, who all contribute to its life and culture.

2. “Song of Myself


  • The idea of self
  • The identification of the self with other selves
  • The poet’s relationship with the elements of nature and the universe.

The self is the most important aspect of the poet’s mind and art. It is both individual and universal and it comprises ideas, experiences, psychological states, and spiritual insights. The poet maintains the identity of his individual self, but also merges it with the universal self, identifying it with mankind and God, the Absolute Self.

3. “Children of Adam


  • Procreation
  • Physical love

The poem is a reinterpretation of the Fall of Man story in the Bible, in which Whitman reverses the Christian take and affirms that man can regain the lost paradise by accepting the flesh and by a glorification of the body, which is as sacred as the spirit.


Musical elements

  • Poetry governed by speaking rules
  • Use of repetitions and reiterative devices

Example: “Loud! loud! loud!”

       “Blow! blow! blow!”

                       “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

Exuberant phrases and images. The language is descriptive in presenting the physical world.

  • Auditory images
  • The fluid quality of the language reflects the poet’s belief that the world is dominated by fluidity and change. The stylistic sign is the usage of the “-ing” verbal forms (present, participle, gerund).

Eccentric, archaic language: “methinks”, “haply”

Rhythm and meter: experimental.

  • Following his belief that experimentation was the law of the changing times, the poet renounced the fixed structures of traditional poetry and redefined rhythm based on the internal musicality of the lyrics. He mostly wrote in trochaic meter, but the distinctive unit of sense in his poetry is the line.


Whitman’s symbols are governed by the world he observed around him:

  • Sea
  • Birds
  • Lilacs
  • Calamus plant

The poet interprets the world through these symbols and sensory perceptions.

Whitman was a contemporary of the French Symbolist movement, but they interpreted symbols in a different, highly personal manner, so the two approaches don’t coincide.