This piece is the first poem in Inscriptions, which is one of the first sections of Leaves of Grass. At the time of his death, Leaves of Grass contained fourteen sections. Others include Autumn Rivulets, Songs of Party, and Calamus. He sets the tone for the poems to come in this piece, noting the importance in his poetry of the body and the worth of individuals.
Explore One's-Self I Sing
‘One’s-Self I Sing’ by Walt Whitman is a poem about identity. It celebrates human identity and how its tied to the body and everything it experiences.
The poem starts with the poet acknowledging the importance of individuality. This is soon followed by his opinion of what identity includes and how the body is an important part. He’s going to write about all types of people, females, and males, equally. He tells readers that the following poems are going to use themes like these.
Structure and Form
‘One’s-Self I Sing’ by Walt Whitman is a three-stanza poem that is separated into one couplet (or set of two lines), and two tercets (or set of three lines). The poem is written in free verse. This means that the lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
Whitman is acknowledged today as the father of free verse poetry. Poems like this one, published in Leaves of Grass, influenced generations of poets.
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, the repetition of “top” and “toe” in the first line of the second stanza and “Muse” and “Male” in lines two and three of the second stanza.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power.”
One’s-Self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.
In the first stanza pf this poem, the speaker begins by using the phrase that later came to be used as the title of the poem. He tells readers that this poem, and many that are going to follow, are about identity. This piece is an ode to the individual. But, the following lines add that it’s not just one person Whitman is own to talk about, it’s a “Democratic” poem and it’s directed to and written for all people. It’s an ode to the concept of individuals more than it is to a single person or type of person.
He’s speaking about the Democratic self, the self that’s shared by all people. It’s a collective identity that connects everyone who has ever lived and will ever live. People are intertwined and connected by they still maintain their individuality.
Of physiology from top to toe I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse, I say the Form complete is worthier far,
The Female equally with the Male I sing.
The second stanza is three lines, with the second line stretching nineteen words. The poet notes that he’s own to “sing,” or as a poet writes, about the human body from “top to toe.” He’s going to celebrate all aspects of human beings, and all types of people as well. It’s better he says, to sing of the entire body rather than of one small portion of it, like the brain.
The human body is closely tied to Whitman’s conception of the self. It is incredibly important, as are all the desires it experiences.
He notes in the last line of the poem that he’s singing of the “Female equally with the Male.” They are equal and should be celebrated in the same way.
Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form’d under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.
The speaker continues on, telling readers that in the following lines of Inscriptions he is going to sing of “Life immense in passion, pulse, and power.” This great example of alliteration informs readers that a human’s ability to experience life, including feelings (the ups and the downs) are going to be celebrated in the following section.
The poem ends with an address to the “Modern Man.” He’s looking into the future, as he does in other poems like ‘I Hear America Singing.’ He sees an ideal image of humanity and civilization in the future of the United States. He hopes he can play some part in ensuring it comes to pass with his work in Leaves of Grass.
The themes at work in this piece are individuality and the value of humanity. The speaker spends the short lines of the poem celebrating the body and soul. He’s interested in the universal identity that human beings have as well as their individual ones.
The purpose is to set the tone for the poems to come in Inscriptions, one section of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. The poem is short and to the point. It presents readers with themes that are incredibly important to the poet.
The tone is optimistic and passionate. The speaker uses simple language to address individuality and the common identity that human beings share. This is something that readers can find in the next poems in the section as well.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field one Night’ should also consider reading some other Walt Whitman poems. For example:
- ‘Animals’ – a poem describing the poet’s love for animals and their nature.
- ‘A Clear Midnight’ – a simple, yet impactful poem that depicts a speaker’s desire to free his soul from the confines of day-to-day life.
- ‘I Dream’d in a Dream’ – depicts a speaker’s dream of a utopian world in which love is the reference point for all decisions and actions.