‘Me Imperturbe’ by Walt Whitman is an eighteen line poem that is contained within one solid block of text. In his characteristic style, Whitman has not imbued this piece with any particular pattern of rhyme or rhythm. The poem is written entirely in free verse. Since his death Whitman has come to be known as the “father” of American free verse poetry.
By refraining from the traditions of meter and rhyme scheme, Walt Whitman is able create a sense of spontaneity in the work that manages to surprise the reader. The lines vary greatly in length, ranging from two words up to twelve. This style of writing more often than not creates sections of text that resemble prose paragraphs. They are known instead as simply, “verse paragraphs.”
The text of ‘Me Imperturbe’ also utilizes Whitman’s style of the democratic verse, or verse that is accessible to the average reader. Many of his pieces do not require a technical understanding of poetry or demand an in-depth interpretation.
Summary of Me Imperturbe
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by stating that he has gone into nature and found himself. It is his true, most “Me” self and he is determined to maintain it. He notes that this would not be possible if he was still in the world of his everyday life. After spending time in nature he able to shake off his “occupation” and “poverty.”
He continues on to describes a number of places he could go that would not change who he is. The speaker might also take on different, often challenging professions and still maintain his true self. He would be imperturbable.
Analysis of Me Imperturbe
Me imperturbe, standing at ease in Nature,
Master of all, or mistress of all—aplomb in the midst
of irrational things,
Imbued as they—passive, receptive, silent as they,
Finding my occupation, poverty, notoriety, foibles,
crimes, less important than I thought;
The speaker begins this piece by utilizing the two-word phrase that became the title of the poem, “Me imperturbe.” The word “impertube” is not in common use. Whitman took it from longer words, “imperturbable” and “imperturbation.” The speaker is the calm, quiet and free from mental struggle. This comes in tandem, and in part because of the speaker’s “standing at ease in Nature.”
The speaker is somewhere outside, in a place that is separate from his normal world of “occupation, poverty, notoriety” and “foibles.” These are the things he struggles with and often weigh unnecessarily on his mind. He is gaining mental and emotional power from feeling like the “Master of all.” The speaker quickly follows this up with the addendum, “or mistress of all.”
By adding in a male and female part Whitman is acknowledging that his speaker’s position is not confined to one specific experience. It is a state of being that is accessible to anyone, male or female. It also acknowledges the natural parts of the speaker himself. He is more than just a man in these moments, he is embracing a feminine side of himself. This is a feature that appears throughout Whitman’s best known work, Song of Myself.
In the next lines the speaker acknowledges the fact that the nature he is within is “aplomb” in the middle of all the “irrational” parts of life. The speaker is developing a closeness with nature that is improving his whole outlook on life. The things he usually worries about are fading into the background. He is realizing they are “less important” than he thought.
Me private, or public, or menial, or solitary—all these
subordinate, (I am eternally equal with the
best—I am not subordinate;)
Me toward the Mexican Sea, or in the Mannahatta,
or the Tennessee, or far north, or inland,
A river-man, or a man of the woods, or of any farm-
life of These States, or of the coast, or the
lakes, or Kanada,
In the next seven lines the speaker goes on to describe himself in a number of different situations. He might be somewhere “private, or public, or menial, or solitary.” The facts of his setting are less important than his own mental stance. No matter where he is, he adds in parenthetically, he is “eternally equal with the / best.” There is no situation in which he is “subordinate” to any other. By venturing out of his normal routine and into the woods, alongside the “Trees and animals,” his outlook has changed.
In the next lines the speaker names off a number of places he could go that would not change him. If he ventured “toward the Mexican Sea” or toward the city of Manhattan, (written here as “Mannahatta”) he would feel the same. As a side note, a reader should know that “Mannahatta” means, “hill island.” It is also the name of another poem by Whitman. In this piece the speaker describes the borough of Manhattan in New York.
The following lines take the speaker to “the Tennessee,” in the Eastern United States and then “far north, or inland.” He is casting himself into lives that range across the North American continent. In these places he might be a “river-man” or even a “man of the woods.” His life might bring him a “farm [in] These States.” These professions work in the same way as the locations he mentioned previous. They mark out ways of living but not ways of changing. He will be the same person no matter what his life brings.
Me, wherever my life is lived, O to be self-balanced
O to confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, acci-
dents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do.
In the last three lines the speaker summarizes how he intends to live his life. He is now the “master” of all parts of himself. It is his goal to be himself “where [his] life is lived.” His emotions, beliefs, and actions will always remain within the realm of his original self.
The speaker is ready for every situation that will challenge him. This might include “night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs.” The speaker is taking from nature, from the “trees and animals” and using the lessons he learns to better himself.