‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman is a poem that singularizes plurality. The poet finds his oneness with the animal world. His love and proximity to their animal spirit form the basis of the poet. The poet’s world is not that one where humans whine, nag, and mutter meaningless utterances. His world is there where there are no rules, no customs, and even no regret. The beauty of the present moment is what keeps the poet alive. In this poem, the poet happily breaks his allegiance with mankind and finds solace in animals.
‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman describes how the poet finds animals are superior to humans. They aren’t superior to men for their intelligence. Rather, they are better for their nature. Whereas humans go astray from reality for their base emotions, animals keep calm. They have no regret in their lives. Nobody respect an animal still it is happy with the life it got. The poet thinks he might have left tokens or symbols of his resemblance with animals in his previous birth. As in his present life, he can visualize those token in animals.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman contains several themes such as animals vs humans, human suffering, materialism, religion, and individualism. First of all, the poet wishes to turn into animals as they are better than humans not for their capacity but their nature. Through incorporating the theme of animal vs humans the poet refers to the futility of human desires. For this reason, he finds peace in animals’ living-in-the-moment nature. Moreover, there is a reference to two types of human sufferings. One that pains the body and one that causes suffering to the soul. Apart from that, how the poet’s individualism is in constant feud with the foundations of religion is there in the poem. Moreover, the poet also refers to the root cause of human sufferings through introducing the theme of materialism in this line, “Not one dissatisfied, not one is demented with/ the mania of owning things”.
‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman is a free verse poem without having specific line lengths or rhyme schemes in general. It moves with the internal rhythms that the poet leaves in each line just like the “tokens” mentioned in the poem. The extracted section of the poem contains three stanzas. The third stanza is long enough and only two lines have been taken here. Whatsoever, there is an instance of slant rhyme in this piece. For reference, in the second stanza, “sins” somehow rhymes with “things”. Moreover, the contraction of lines in this poem refers to a shift of ideas. Apart from that, the poet uses both the iambic meter and trochaic meter for creating a mixed sound scheme.
‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman contains several literary devices. The first line begins with a paradox. Thereafter, the poet uses personification to invests humanly qualities in animals. Moreover, the first two lines contain anaphora as they begin with the same word. This device is present in the following lines of the upcoming stanzas too. Such a repetition at the beginning of consecutive lines is used for the sake of emphasis. Apart from that, there is a metaphor in the usage of the word “sick”. Through it, the poet refers to his mental frustration. Moreover, in “mania of owning things” the poet metaphorically compares possessive nature to a kind of mania. There is hyperbole in “lived thousands of years ago.” However, the poem ends with a rhetorical question.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman begins directly without any beating around the bust. Whitman wants to transform into an animal and wants to be a part of their pack. The reason is simple. They are placid or even-tempered, not generally upset by day to day happenings. Moreover, they are also happy with what they have. The poet is in no way different from the animals in these qualities. That’s why he stands and looks at them for long hours and wonders to see his reflection in them.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman, in this section, refers to their three basic qualities that are different concerning that of the humans. Firstly, they don’t “sweat and whine” about their condition. In “sweat”, the poet uses metonymy to refer to the cause of sweating that is tension. Secondly, the poet says they don’t lie awake to weep for their sins. They don’t have the inner fear of God’s wrath or suffering in hell. Thirdly, they don’t make the poet sick reminding him about his duties to God. Here, the poet presents his non-conformist nature that is consonant with the creatures of the wilderness.
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
In ‘Animals’, the poet goes on to speak about the qualities of animals in this section too. Here, he says not one animal is dissatisfied with what they have. They aren’t even demented with the pangs of materialism. Moreover, they never kneel to another being nor to the creatures that lived before him. Lastly, they don’t give a thought to getting respect in society. Happiness is always there in their hearts. Through this section the poet criticizes worldliness. He shows the importance of self-awareness, individual freedom, and being happy at the moment.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.
In the last three lines of ‘Animals’, Walt Whitman, after describing all the reasons in the previous section, says, “So they show their relations to me and I accept them”. There is no regret in breaking the bond with the human world in the poet’s heart. He accepts them as they bring him the “tokens” of himself. It’s a reference to the symbols or representations that closely resemble the poet’s nature. They show those symbols plainly to the poet.
I wonder where they get those tokens,
Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?
In the last two lines of ‘Animals’, Whitman wonders where they got those tokens. He rhetorically says that he might have negligently dropped them before. It means that long ago he was also a member of their world. Somehow, the time has evolved him and torn the thread of their bonding. After living in the human world for many years, he understood this world doesn’t resemble his nature. That’s why he happily admits his allegiance to the animal world.
‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman, belongs to his ‘Song of Myself’. It appeared in Whitman’s major poetry collection “Leaves of Grass”. Whatsoever, in 1885, Mary Oakes Davis, the widow of a sea captain, moved in with Whitman to serve as his housekeeper in exchange for free rent. She brought several animals with her. During this time, Whitman produced further editions of “Leaves of Grass”. So, ‘Animals’ seems to be written at that time. The poet might have developed a relationship with the animals brought by the lady and had this revelation mentioned in the poem.
Like ‘Animals’, one of the best Walt Whitman poems, the following poems also present similar themes.
- Animal Tranquility and Decay by William Wordsworth – Here, William Wordsworth, one of the best British poets, depicts an old man walking in peace and tranquility.
- Animal Crackers by Richard de Zoysa – It’s a poem describing the political situation of Sri Lanks using symbolic animals.
- The Circus Animal’s Desertion by W.B. Yeats – In this one of the best W.B. Yeats poems, the poet describes his struggle in search of a theme to write on.
- Auguries of Innocence by William Blake – Here, the poet refers to the difference between the natural world and the human world.
You can read about 10 of the Best Nature Poems here.