Through the poem, Whitman explores the idea that personal connections and emotional intimacy are more valuable than material possessions or surface-level entertainment. ‘City of Orgies’ is a free verse poem written in Whitman’s characteristic style, which features long, flowing lines and vivid sensory language.
City of Orgies Walt WhitmanCity of orgies, walks and joys,City whom that I have lived and sung in your midst will one daymake you illustrious,Not the pageants of you, not your shifting tableaus, your specta-cles, repay me,Not the interminable rows of your houses, nor the ships at thewharves,Nor the processions in the streets, nor the bright windows withgoods in them,Nor to converse with learn'd persons, or bear my share in the soireeor feast;Not those, but as I pass O Manhattan, your frequent and swiftflash of eyes offering me love,Offering response to my own—these repay me,Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.
Explore City of Orgies
‘City of Orgies’ by Walt Whitman is a poem about the author’s experiences in the city of Manhattan and his reflections on what brings him true happiness and fulfillment in life.
The poem describes the city as a place of both celebration and superficiality, with its pageants, tableaus, and processions. However, Whitman emphasizes that these things do not truly “repay” him for his time spent in the city. Instead, he values personal connections and emotional intimacy, which he experiences in the form of the “frequent and swift flash of eyes” that offer him love and understanding as he passes through the city.
Whitman sees these connections as a source of constant joy and fulfillment and suggests that they are the only thing that truly matters to him. The poem is a celebration of the power of human connection in the context of a bustling city.
Structure and Form
‘City of Orgies’ by Walt Whitman is a free verse poem contained within 15 lines of verse. The poem does not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, something that readers of Whitman’s verse will be very familiar with. The poet is commonly regarded as the ‘father of free verse poetry,’ something that he demonstrates in this piece.
In this poem, the poet uses a few different literary devices. These include but are not limited to the following:
- Allusion: a reference to something outside the direct context of the poem. In the first few lines, the poem alludes to Manhattan as a symbol of American urban life and culture. It’s not till toward the end of the poem that the city’s identity is revealed.
- Metaphor: a comparison between two things that doesn’t use “like” or “as.” The city is described as a place of “orgies,” suggesting wild and frenzied energy.
- Personification: occurs when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. The city is personified as a living entity with the ability to offer love and emotional connection.
- Imagery: The poem uses vivid sensory language to describe the sights and sounds of the city, such as “frequent and swift flash of eyes” and “interminable rows of houses.”
City of orgies, walks and joys,
City whom that I have lived and sung in your midst will one day
make you illustrious,
Not the pageants of you, not your shifting tableaus, your specta-
cles, repay me,
In these opening lines, Whitman addresses the city of Manhattan, describing it as a place of “orgies, walks, and joys.” The word “orgies” can have a negative connotation, suggesting excessive or immoral behavior, but Whitman’s use of it here may also connote a sense of wild abandon or celebration.
Whitman goes on to express his belief that his association with the city will one day bring it fame or “illustriousness.” He then asserts that the superficial aspects of the city, such as its parades and displays, do not bring him fulfillment or repayment for his time spent there.
Instead, he suggests that it is the personal connections he has made in the city, particularly with lovers who offer him their “swift flash of eyes,” that truly compensate him for his experiences there. These lines reveal Whitman’s emphasis on the power of human connection and intimacy, which he sees as more valuable than material possessions or surface-level entertainment.
Not the interminable rows of your houses, nor the ships at the
Nor the processions in the streets, nor the bright windows with
goods in them,
In these lines, Whitman continues to describe the aspects of the city that do not bring him fulfillment or satisfaction. He lists several elements of the city that might be considered impressive or grand, such as the rows of houses, ships at the wharves, and processions in the streets. He also mentions the bright windows filled with goods, suggesting the commercialism and materialism of the city.
By listing these elements, Whitman implies that the city is often defined by its outward appearances, but he does not find these things meaningful or rewarding in and of themselves. He suggests that there is more to the city than what meets the eye and that it is the personal connections and interactions that occur within it that truly matter.
Nor to converse with learn’d persons, or bear my share in the soiree
Not those, but as I pass O Manhattan, your frequent and swift
flash of eyes offering me love,
Offering response to my own—these repay me,
Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.
In these closing lines, Whitman reinforces his central theme that personal connections are what truly matter to him. He mentions that he is not interested in the superficial activities of city life, such as intellectual conversations or attending social events.
Instead, he values the emotional connections he has made with other people in the city. He describes the “frequent and swift flash of eyes” that offer him love and understanding as he passes through the city. For Whitman, these connections are what truly “repay” him for his time spent in the city.
The final lines, “Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me,” emphasize the importance of ongoing, meaningful relationships. Whitman sees these connections as a source of constant joy and fulfillment, and he suggests that they are the only thing that truly matters to him and implies that readers should feel the same way.
The theme of ‘City of Orgies’ is the power of human connection and intimacy in the context of a bustling city and the idea that personal relationships are more valuable than material possessions or surface-level entertainment.
‘City of Orgies’ is a poem about Walt Whitman’s experiences in the city of Manhattan and his reflections on what truly brings him fulfillment and happiness in life. He describes the city as a place of both celebration and superficiality but ultimately emphasizes the importance of personal connections and emotional intimacy.
This poem is characteristic of Whitman’s work, featuring long, flowing lines and a free-form structure that reflects the rhythms of natural speech. The poem is written in free verse, without a strict meter or rhyme scheme, which allows Whitman to explore his themes and ideas in a fluid, flexible way.
The tone is celebratory and passionate but also contemplative and reflective. Whitman expresses his love for the city and its people but also acknowledges the limitations of material possessions and surface-level entertainment. The poem is ultimately hopeful, emphasizing the power of personal connections to bring fulfillment and joy to life.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Walt Whitman poems. For example:
- ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ – an incredibly famous poem about the death of Abraham Lincoln.
- ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ – discusses how everything that has ever existed or will ever exist is connected.
- ‘A Clear Midnight’ – is a simple yet impactful poem that depicts a speaker’s desire to free his soul from the confines of day-to-day life.