For You O Democracy

Walt Whitman

‘For You O Democracy’ by Walt Whitman dedicates itself to the establishment of a land and people worthy of the noble ideals of democracy itself.


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: Democracy must be founded on an undivided love and fellowship

Themes: Celebration, Love, Nature

Speaker: An ardent lover of democracy

Emotions Evoked: Excitement, Hope, Pride

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 19th Century

Walt Whitman's poem tempers its audacious patriotism with the poet's earnestly feverish calls for camaraderie, illustrating the creation of a land upheld by a unifying love.

In the poem ‘For You O Democracy,’ the Transcendentalist poet Walt Whitman addresses a personified vision of democracy. First published as part of ‘Leaves of Grass’ it invokes all his familiarly grand use of imagery and figurative language, exploring a variety of themes essential to his poetry, from fervent camaraderie and a reverent celebration of nature to the patriotic undercurrent that flows beneath many of his works.

For You O Democracy
Walt Whitman

Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,I will make divine magnetic lands, With the love of comrades, With the life-long love of comrades.

I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks, By the love of comrades, By the manly love of comrades.

For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!For you, for you I am trilling these songs.


‘For You O Democracy’ by Walt Whitman gives praise to democracy and promises to create for it a land and country worthy of serving it.

‘For You O Democracy’ opens with the speaker revealing their audacious plans toward a personification of democracy. They plan on making the land indestructible, populating it with a magnificent race of people who will be united by a “life-long love of comrades.”

To that end, the speaker plans to plant “companionship” as one would plant trees, fostering their growth throughout the American landscape. This bond will also extend to the cities, which will remain closely connected, much like a line of people standing side-by-side, linking their arms around one another. Again, the speaker assures that brotherly love is crucial to such a vision.

The poem ends with the speaker directly addressing, “Democracy…ma femme!” Revealing that it is for them, they sing songs of democratic and liberating passion.

Structure and Form

‘For You O Democracy’ is written in free verse and comprises three stanzas; the first two are five lines long, while the last one is a couplet. The last two lines of each quintet are also indented and use repetition — which resembles the refrains of a song.

Literary Devices

‘For You O Democracy’ contains examples of the following literary devices:

  • Visual Imagery: The poem relies on a variety of visual depictions, as when the speaker asserts they will create a “continent indissoluble” (1). Other examples include the images of trees and cities that comprise Whitman’s use of figurative language.
  • Metaphor: Whitman refers to the country as being a “divine magnetic [land]” (3) in order to convey its lofty and powerful nature. Another example comes when the speaker states they are “trilling these songs” (11) for democracy’s sake, the poet’s words being compared to a piece of music.
  • Personification: when human traits are given to non-human things, such as when the speaker describes the “inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks” (7) or refers to “Democracy, to serve you ma femme!” (10).
  • Simile: a comparison that uses “like” or “as” to bridge itself, as when the speaker claims to “plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America” (6).

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
                   With the love of comrades
                      With the life-long love of comrades.

The opening stanza of ‘For You O Democracy’ begins with the speaker addressing a personified vision of democracy — though they aren’t directly referenced until the final stanza. These first few lines frame the poem as a series of promises that center on the creation of a land and people worthy of democracy’s ideals.

Whitman’s imagery focuses on the establishment of a “continent indissoluble” (1) — an image that implies the land will be both permanent and lasting but also indivisible. But they will also be sublime and invigorating, using metaphor to characterize them as “divine magnetic lands” (3).

The speaker also assures the listener that this place will be filled with the “most splendid race the sun ever shone upon” (2). A charged phrase that dredges up some of Whitman’s problematic views on race and American exceptionalism. Yet he also confoundingly contradicts those same beliefs in the stanza’s last two lines, as the speaker repeatedly asserts that this landscape will resound with the “life-ling love of comrades” (5).

Stanza Two

I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,
                   By the love of comrades,
                      By the manly love of comrades.

The second stanza of ‘For You O Democracy’ continues the speaker’s train of promises from the first stanza. Continuing this theme of loving camaraderie, the speaker announces plans to “plant companionship thick as trees” (6) across America. The simile entwines this human solidarity with the natural world — making one indispensable to the other.

Whitman’s characteristic cataloging of landscapes — “along all the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies” (6) — accentuates the ubiquity with which such bold fellowship will engrain itself within the terrain.

Even its cities will appear as if having “their arms about each other’s necks” (7), the personification further cementing such social cohesiveness as a source of the country’s indissolubility.

Stanza Three

For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!
For you, for you I am trilling these songs.

The final stanza of ‘For You O Democracy’ is a short couplet. In it, the speaker declares that everything they have promised to do and accomplish is done in service to this personification of democracy. “For you, for you I am trilling these songs” (11), they pledge as Whitman employs his often-used motif of invoking music and song as an ardent means of expressing one’s inner soul.


What is the theme of ‘For You O Democracy?

The poem’s theme is both an ode and a devotional to the ideal of democracy. One that expresses a belief in loving companionship and camaraderie as the unbreakable foundation from which a great nation should spring.

Why did Walt Whitman write ‘For You O Democracy?

Whitman’s poem voices a number of Transcendentalist beliefs as well as patriotic ones. Its placement in ‘Leaves of Grass’ also hints at its purpose, which was to express the poet’s grandiose faith in the spirit of democracy they saw as the heart and soul of America.

What does “ma femme” mean?

The speaker curiously refers to democracy as “ma femme!” (10). The phrase, which in French means “my wife,” implies the existence of a romantic and devoted relationship between the two. The purpose of this is to underscore the speaker’s passionate adoration for democracy itself.

What is the significance of “race” in the poem?

The poet’s diction compels a reminder that despite the democratic proclamations and sympathy toward the plights of Black slaves that fill so much of his poetry, Whitman’s journalistic writings echoed racist prejudices of the time. His views on race are inconsistent, making the invocation of a “splendid race” complicated in such a light. As a result, readers might interpret the phrase as far more inclusive than the poet might have originally conceived it.

Similar Poems

If you enjoyed this poem by Walt Whitman, be sure to check out a few more of his works below:

Poetry+ Review Corner

For You O Democracy

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.

Walt Whitman

This poem by Walt Whitman expresses the poet's unabashed patriotism, which often presented itself in his poetry as a complicated tangle of nationalistic pride and democratic fervor. Although his journalistic works contain ingrained racism, that's hard to reconcile with literary works like this poem. Especially when they contain such loftily vociferous calls for equality and unity.
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19th Century

Walt Whitman was one of the monumental literary figures of the 19th century. One whose writings not only transformed American verse but also led the Transcendental movement. Poems like this one reveal the patriotic pitch expressed in his poems, one that centers on a celebration of his fellow man and the envisioned future of the country.
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Walt Whitman was a revered member of the Transcendental movement in America, his poems leaving behind a boldly individualistic and complicated legacy. His pioneering verses like this one often wrangled all the diverse elements of the nation into a powerful expression of democratic zeal. Although those sentiments weren't always reflected in his other writings, poems like this one celebrate a desire for equality.
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At its core, this poem by Walt Whitman serves as a celebration of the democratic ideal. It is for democracy that they compose this poem, which itself promises to create a nation that is worthy of carrying its mantle. While the speaker breathlessly illustrates the emergence of such a land.
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A theme found in Walt Whitman's poem is love. Throughout the poem, the speaker references what they call the "love of comrades," a phrase that appears to symbolize the kind of affectionate unity that should bond such a nation. As a result, the poem asserts that a foundational element of any worthy democracy is a passionate and empathetic love for your fellow man.
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Being a Transcendental Poet, rare is a Walt Whitman poem without imagery or symbolism involving nature. This poem might be a patriotic expression, but that doesn't mean it's absent of the natural world. In fact, the speaker makes it clear that the land of a country is just as important as its people. It also uses trees as a symbol for nurturing the love essential to its bonds.
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Excitement is an emotion inherent in many of Walt Whitman’s poems. This one is no different, and although it's on the shorter end of some of his more famous ones, that doesn't mean the speaker isn't graced by the poet's energizing voice. Their excitement is characterized by an emphatic patriotism and devotion to democracy.
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An emotion revealed in Walt Whitman's poem is this hope that the nation will aspire to become something worthy of a democracy. In the process, the speaker makes increasingly lofty promises in service to this democratic ideal. Offering to create a "most splendid race" and "divine magnetic lands" that are bound by love and equality.
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One of the more powerful emotions imparted by Walt Whitman's poem is this sense of pride. This poem splits that pride between two ideas: democracy and the nation that the speaker desires to create in honor of it. For all its nationalistic zeal, the poem does express the essentialism of equality and love between citizens.
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One of the topics that Walt Whitman's poem touches on is the notion of equality. In reality, this is a rather ambiguous statement, and one made all the more complicated by the poet's inconsistent views on who deserved such democratic consideration. But taken at face value, the poem's speaker earnestly advocates for unity and camaraderie.
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Walt Whitman's poem also expresses the necessity of friendship and fellowship. The speaker reveals that these values are essential to any serious democracy, while the poet's imagery enforces this vision of a nation entangled with itself. His use of figurative language transforms cities into personified elements of its citizenry, standing arm-in-arm with each other.
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This isn't the only poem by Walt Whitman to personify something as lofty as a system of government like democracy. In fact, it's also not the only poem he's written that addresses the democratic ideology of a feminine individual. Although it's quite short, the poem offers a compelling and passionate portrait of the kind of nation the poet saw as worthy of celebration.
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The poem utilizes a number of symbols pulled from nature to characterize the nation that Walt Whitman's speaker wants to create for democracy. One that stands out is the poet's use of trees as a simile for the way they intend to plant and nurture "companionship" and a "love of comrades."
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Free Verse

Walt Whitman often used free verse in his poetry in order to capture the cadence and beauty of daily language. He saw the poetry and musicality of the people around him and sought to bring it to life on the page organically. His ability to control the poem's rhythm also goes hand in hand with his cataloging of images.
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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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