Beginning My Studies by Walt Whitman

In ‘Beginning My Studies’ Whitman explores themes of happiness, nature, and interconnectivity. He depicts, through a joyous tone and mood, the happiness one can experience if they are willing to let themselves truly see nature. 


Summary of Beginning My Studies 

‘Beginning My Studies’ by Walt Whitman is a simple poem that addresses the joy the speaker felt when stepping out into the natural world. 

In six lines the poem depicts for the reader the overwhelming joy the speaker felt upon being able to step outside into nature and investigate. He did not have to go farther than the first step before he knew that he was far enough. The connections between creatures, forms, sights and sounds thrilled him. The last line states that he wanted to sing out his joy in “ecstatic song,” a clear reference to this poem and all others Whitman wrote on the theme of nature.


Structure of Beginning My Studies 

Beginning My Studies’ by Walt Whitman is a single stanza poem that is made up of six lines. These lines do not follow a rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, as was the case with almost all of Whitman’s verse. He is effectively known as the “father of free verse poetry”. Meaning, that he pioneered, and helped establish the viability of writing poems without rhyme schemes or specific patterns of meter. 


Poetic Techniques in Beginning My Studies 

Although this poem is written in free verse that does not mean that it lacks in poetic techniques. Whitman made use of several in ‘Beginning My Studies’. These include but are not limited to anaphora, alliteration, and sibilance. The first, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, lines two through three all begin with the word “The”. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. There are several examples in this poem, for instance, “hardly” and “hardly” in line five and “me” and “much” in line four. 

Sibilance is similar to alliteration but it is concerned with soft vowel sounds such as “s” and “th”. This kind of repetition usually results in a prolonged hissing or rushing sound. It is often used to mimic another sound, like water, wind, or any kind of fluid movement. In the first line a reader can find an example in “studies” and “step”. There’s another in line four with “step” and “say”. 


Analysis of Beginning My Studies

Lines 1-3

Beginning my studies the first step pleas’d me so much,

The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion,

The least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love,

In the first lines of ‘Beginning My Studies’ the speaker begins by making use of the phrase that came to be used as the title of the poem. When the speaker first started looking into the natural world, exploring the wild places around him and taking note of their individual parts, he was thrilled by everything. The “first step” he took “pleas’d” him so much.

The word “pleas’d” in this line provides the reader with an example of syncope. It is a literary device that is defined as a shortening of a word by removing or omitting letters. This usually occurs within the middle of words and can refer to the removal of consonants, vowels, and multiple letters one after another. In the place of the dropped letter the poet uses an apostrophe. In this case, Whitman chose to make use of the technique for the purposes of rhythm, but not to conform to a specific pattern. 

The next two lines list out some of the elements that drew him into the natural landscape. He speaks of the “fact of consciousness” as a connecting feature amongst all living things. There are similarities in form, common and strange ones. There are the smallest or “least” insect or animal was amazing to his eyes. 


Lines 4-6

The first step I say awed me and pleas’d me so much,

I have hardly gone and hardly wish’d to go any farther,

But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.

In the last three lines of the poem the speaker reiterates the simplicity of the action. He took one single step and it pleased him “so much”. This is a good example of how repetition can be used in a short poem effectively. 

The speaker emphasizes how he had hardly “gone” and knew that that was all it was going to take to make him happy. He doesn’t need to travel far into the woods or explore deep nooks and crannies no one has ever seen before. He “hardly wish’d to go any farther”. The last line alludes to the creation of this poem and all other poems that Whitman was inspired to write by the natural world. He says that he wanted to “stop and loiter” and to “sing” out his joy in “ecstatic songs”. 

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