‘America’ appears within Walt Whitman’s collection ‘Leaves of Grass’ as part of a cluster referred to as the ‘Calamus’ poems. Like many of the lines of free verse written in this section, they advocate for intimate camaraderie amongst all peoples as well as with nature. Which he accomplishes through a characteristically relentless catalog of verdant imagery.
Although on the shorter side compared to many of his more famous poems, it still successfully illustrates the splendid plurality Whitman as a Transcendentalist celebrated as the root of his pride in the United States.
America Walt WhitmanCentre of equal daughters, equal sons,All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,Chair’d in the adamant of Time.
‘America’ by Walt Whitman is a passionate poem that expresses patriotism defined by a unified reverence for humanity and nature.
‘America’ unfolds as an expression of pride in one’s country. The speaker lists all the different elements they see as integral to its beauty and wonder. But they also give the speaker a reason to be hopeful about the future.
The first group of people they focus on are the children of America, emphasizing their equality. “All,” the speaker emphatically declares, are alike from the adolescent to the elderly. In the speaker’s eyes, they are all robust, just, persevering, and skilled people.
But they are also tied eternally to the earth — not just a single nation. In addition, lofty ideals like freedom, law, and love are also quintessential to their identity (or at least the speaker’s high expectations for it). These pillars of principles and belief are seated alongside mother earth — “grand, sane, towering,” — for all eternity.
Structure and Form
‘America’ is written in free verse, meaning it doesn’t possess any formal meter or rhyme scheme. As is the case with many of Whitman’s poems, he creates his cadence through his use of cataloging, propelling his verse forward with succinct but lush images.
‘America’ contains mainly examples of both imagery and figurative language, which include the following:
- Visual Imagery: “Centre of equal daughters, equal sons / All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old / Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich” (1-3) “A grand, sane, towering” (5)
- Metaphor: “Perennial with the Earth” (4) “Chair’d in the adamant of Time” (6)
- Personification: “with Freedom, Law and Love” (4) “A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother” (5)
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
‘America’ begins with Whitman cataloging a list of different images meant to affirm their perception of the country’s people. They describe it as a “centre of equal daughters, equal sons” (1), articulating both immensity and passionate egalitarianism. In the second line, the speaker reasserts that all are “alike…grown, ungrown, young or old” (2) and no one is superior to another.
Such people are characterized by the speaker as being “strong, ample…rich” (3). Whitman’s diction punctuates their imagery with its succinct assertiveness, revealing an unburdened love and hope for his fellow man. His words might be taken literally to refer to the robust strength he often celebrated amongst working-class people but also as a comment on their “fair, enduring, capable” (3) spirit.
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.
In the last three lines of ‘America,’ the speaker continues to laud praise upon the people of the nation he’s observed and lived amongst. Here the imagery and figurative language become much more lofty. The speaker, referring to the people mentioned in the opening lines, compares them to flowers that bloom eternally alongside the “Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love” (4).
In other words, they are bound immutably to not just the natural world but certain profound ideals. Yet the most important of these is undoubtedly the earth. In its final lines, the poem pays special attention to this “seated Mother” (5), who is personified as this cosmic force “grand, sane, [and] towering” (5).
For all intents and purposes, the speaker reveres this embodiment of Mother Nature with great spiritual gusto. The poem ends by re-establishing her everlasting presence with a powerful image of them being “chair’d in the adamant of Time” (6). An image that emphasizes the speaker’s faith in the lasting nature of not just America but of its people.
The poem’s theme is an expression of pride and hope by the speaker that their countrymen are a beacon of brotherly love and live in harmony with such eternal principles as nature and love.
Whitman’s diction and imagery focus on the beautiful equality and diversity they saw as America’s heart and soul. Many of his poems, not just those found in ‘Leaves of Grass,’ sought to give voice to his fiery and unique patriotism. One that was fueled by the lives of everyday individuals regardless of race or creed.
The poem hones in on two essential elements of the Transcendental movement. The first is the celebration of the individual and its multiplicity; the second is a foundational veneration for nature. Not only must people exist in harmony with each other — but the world around us as well.
Capitalizing these words places greater emphasis on them and also lends them a certain symbolic autonomy. Putting them on equal footing as the people mentioned in the first half of the poem, turning them into tangible and personified characters like Mother “Earth.”
- ‘America’ by Claude McKay – this poem explores all the contradictory reasons to be overjoyed and horrified over in regard to the nation.
- ‘America’ by Allen Ginsberg – this poem also gets at the heart of what America could be versus what it actually is.
- ‘America For Me’ by Henry van Dyke – this poem celebrates the nation in contrast to Europe.