Walt Whitman

‘America’ by Walt Whitman is a short but impactful poem that expresses the poet’s pride and joy for his fellow countrymen.


Walt Whitman

Nationality: American

Walt Whitman is known as the father of free verse poetry.

His deeply emotional, spiritual, and nature-based poems appeal to poetry lovers around the world.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: An outpouring of pride and celebration for one's country

Speaker: A patriot

Emotions Evoked: Freedom, Hope, Passion

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 19th Century

Walt Whitman's poem overflows with a characteristic breathlessness and awe that's generated to describe the poet's immense love for the people of his country.

‘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. 

Walt Whitman

Centre 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.

Literary Devices

‘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)

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-3

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.

Lines 4-6

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.


What is the theme of ‘America?

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. 

Why did Walt Whitman write ‘America?

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. 

What tenets of Transcendentalism are identifiable in the poem?

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.

Why are certain words like “Freedom,” “Law,” “Love,” and “Time” capitalized?

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.”

Similar Poems

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Walt Whitman

This poem by Walt Whitman comes from a section of 'Leaves of Grass' referred to as the 'Calamus' poems. Although incredibly short, the poet still manages to cram such lofty and grandiose images within its few lines, which are characterized by the poet's breathlessly earnest free verse and cataloging. The result is a moving poem that expresses stalwart pride.
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19th Century

Walt Whitman was an important Transcendentalist poet of the 19th century. His poetry is defined by its erratic free verse, sumptuous sensory detail, and passionate love for all living things. This poem offers another dimension of that spirit: fiery patriotism. But like many things about the poet, his style of pride for his nation was unique for the time, one founded on an unshakable belief in equality between all men and women.
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As a celebrated member of the Transcendental movement in the United States, Whitman's poems possess both a literary and cultural legacy. This poem reveals the intense humanism that sat at the heart of his patriotism, as well as his ardent belief that the potential of any group of people is bound by love and equality.
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As is often the case, celebration is a major theme found within this poem by Walt Whitman. Here, the poet expresses his grand pride and hope for his country and the people who call it home. It is a patriotism defined by the poet's great desire for equality and freedom to be enjoyed by every individual.
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Being a transcendentalist poet, it is not so surprising that Walt Whitman's poem contains themes relating to nature. This poem deals more with the people and ideas that comprise America than its landscapes. But it does use diction that alludes to elements of nature, as when the speaker refers to these people as "perennial."
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Spirituality is another theme found within Walt Whitman's poem, one expressed by the speaker as a listing of personified ideals worthy of worship. These include "the Earth, with Freedom, Law, and Love." Together they represent what the poet believed were the best qualities and values a people could possibly aspire to.
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Even without patriotic overtures, Walt Whitman's poems often inspire a sense of freedom in the individual, one that is supplied by the poet's own boundless and earnest spirit. Here, that freedom appears very much as it always does: rooted in a desire for goodwill and equality amongst all people. It is this simple idea of freedom that sits at the center of his vision of the country.
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Hope is another emotion expressed in Walt Whitman's poem, arriving as a vision of America taken directly from his heart. After all, what Whitman sees isn't exactly what exists. Yet, the poet sees the potential of a nation united in brotherly love and far-flung equality. In the end, the poem represents a hopeful glimpse of the beauty he sees in his country.
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Another common emotion in Walt Whitman's poems, passion is one he so eloquently and effortlessly expresses. Here that passion is directed at the people of his country as he lauds them onto a lofty pedestal. His grandiosity and patriotism are made less vociferous by their resounding humanism. This isn't brash nationalism but rather a plea for the strength of equality.
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This poem by Walt Whitman is defined by the intense devotion it expresses. This feeling of faith and loyalty is directed at a variety of targets: from the individuals who make America to the ideals they attempt to follow. The speaker takes immense pride in their country but only because of how much love and equality play a role in its existence.
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One of the core topics of this poem is the notion of equality between all people, something that many of Walt Whitman's poems expressed. A fierce abolitionist, he opposed slavery and advocated for its end. He was also supportive of gender equality as well. This poem reveals those ideals to be a core reason why he saw such potential in America.
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Justice is another important topic within Walt Whitman's poem. Without it, the speaker's vision of America would be incomplete and lacking. The speaker mentions that the people should abide by such ideals as "freedom" and "law" — no doubt ensuring both are enshrined by equality. This contributes to the utopian-esque imagery that Whitman conjures up.
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Motherhood is another topic mentioned in the poem. The speaker refers to the "seated Mother," which could be interpreted as a personification of America or Mother Nature. Either way, such motherly affection plays a large role in much of Walt Whitman's poetry. Here, he uses it to offer an ideal toward which people should aspire to.
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Free Verse

Walt Whitman utilized free verse for a variety of reasons, one being that it just better embodied the cadence of everyday speech and language. Another is that it gave the poet greater control over creating his own rhythm, which he could accelerate or slow down as he desired. The presence of caesura throughout the poem only accentuates that rhythm.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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