The Sleepers

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman’s ‘The Sleepers’ portrays a brave swimmer’s perilous journey through nature’s might, evoking awe and mortality.


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: Human resilience in the face of nature's power and the inevitability of mortality

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Bravery, Courage, Fear, Grief, Resilience

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 19th Century

'The Sleepers' by Walt Whitman showcases a swimmer's resilience amidst a hazardous sea, exploring human vulnerability and mortality.

In ‘The Sleepers‘ by Walt Whitman, the poem vividly portrays a beautiful and courageous swimmer navigating the treacherous sea’s eddies. The swimmer’s struggle against the powerful waves evokes a sense of awe and admiration for his bravery and determination.

However, the poem also delves into the theme of human vulnerability, emphasizing the unpredictability of nature and the inevitability of mortality. Through powerful imagery and emotional language, Whitman invites readers to contemplate the transient nature of life and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

The Sleepers
Walt Whitman


I wander all night in my vision,Stepping with light feet, swiftly and noiselessly stepping and stopping,Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers,Wandering and confused, lost to myself, ill-assorted, contradictory,Pausing, gazing, bending, and stopping.

How solemn they look there, stretch’d and still,How quiet they breathe, the little children in their cradles.

The wretched features of ennuyes, the white features of corpses, the livid faces of drunkards, the sick-gray faces of onanists,The gash’d bodies on battle-fields, the insane in their strong-door’d rooms, the sacred idiots, the new-born emergingfrom gates, and the dying emerging from gates,The night pervades them and infolds them.

The married couple sleep calmly in their bed, he with his palm on the hip of the wife, and she with her palm on the hip of the husband,The sisters sleep lovingly side by side in their bed,The men sleep lovingly side by side in theirs,And the mother sleeps with her little child carefully wrapt.

The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep,The prisoner sleeps well in the prison, the runaway son sleeps,The murderer that is to be hung next day, how does he sleep?And the murder’d person, how does he sleep?

The female that loves unrequited sleeps,And the male that loves unrequited sleeps,The head of the money-maker that plotted all day sleeps,And the enraged and treacherous dispositions, all, all sleep.

I stand in the dark with drooping eyes by the worst-suffering and the most restless,I pass my hands soothingly to and fro a few inches from them,The restless sink in their beds, they fitfully sleep.

Now I pierce the darkness, new beings appear,The earth recedes from me into the night,I saw that it was beautiful, and I see that what is not the earth is beautiful.

I go from bedside to bedside, I sleep close with the other sleepers each in turn,I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers,And I become the other dreamers.

I am a dance—play up there! the fit is whirling me fast!

I am the ever-laughing—it is new moon and twilight,I see the hiding of douceurs, I see nimble ghosts whichever way I look,Cache and cache again deep in the ground and sea, and where it is neither ground nor sea.

Well do they do their jobs those journeymen divine,Only from me can they hide nothing, and would not if they could,I reckon I am their boss and they make me a pet besides,And surround me and lead me and run ahead when I walk,To lift their cunning covers to signify me with stretch’d arms, and resume the way;Onward we move, a gay gang of blackguards! with mirth-shouting music and wild-flapping pennants of joy!

I am the actor, the actress, the voter, the politician,The emigrant and the exile, the criminal that stood in the box,He who has been famous and he who shall be famous after to-day,The stammerer, the well-form’d person, the wasted or feeble person.

I am she who adorn’d herself and folded her hair expectantly,My truant lover has come, and it is dark.

Double yourself and receive me darkness,Receive me and my lover too, he will not let me go without him.

I roll myself upon you as upon a bed, I resign myself to the dusk.

He whom I call answers me and takes the place of my lover,He rises with me silently from the bed.

Darkness, you are gentler than my lover, his flesh was sweaty and panting,I feel the hot moisture yet that he left me.

My hands are spread forth, I pass them in all directions,I would sound up the shadowy shore to which you are journeying.

Be careful darkness! already what was it touch’d me?I thought my lover had gone, else darkness and he are one,I hear the heart-beat, I follow, I fade away.


I descend my western course, my sinews are flaccid,Perfume and youth course through me and I am their wake.

It is my face yellow and wrinkled instead of the old woman’s,I sit low in a straw-bottom chair and carefully darn my grandson’s stockings.

It is I too, the sleepless widow looking out on the winter midnight,I see the sparkles of starshine on the icy and pallid earth.

A shroud I see and I am the shroud, I wrap a body and lie in the coffin,It is dark here under ground, it is not evil or pain here, it is blank here, for reasons.

(It seems to me that every thing in the light and air ought to be happy,Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave let him know he has enough.)


I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies of the sea,His brown hair lies close and even to his head, he strikes out with courageous arms, he urges himself with his legs,I see his white body, I see his undaunted eyes,I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him head-foremost on the rocks.

What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves?Will you kill the courageous giant? will you kill him in the prime of his middle age?

Steady and long he struggles,He is baffled, bang’d, bruis’d, he holds out while his strength holds out,The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood, they bear him away, they roll him, swing him, turn him,His beautiful body is borne in the circling eddies, it is continually bruis’d on rocks,Swiftly and ought of sight is borne the brave corpse.


I turn but do not extricate myself,Confused, a past-reading, another, but with darkness yet.

The beach is cut by the razory ice-wind, the wreck-guns sound,The tempest lulls, the moon comes floundering through the drifts.

I look where the ship helplessly heads end on, I hear the burst as she strikes, I hear the howls of dismay, they grow fainter and fainter.

I cannot aid with my wringing fingers,I can but rush to the surf and let it drench me and freeze upon me.

I search with the crowd, not one of the company is wash’d to us alive,In the morning I help pick up the dead and lay them in rows in a barn.


Now of the older war-days, the defeat at Brooklyn,Washington stands inside the lines, he stands on the intrench’d hills amid a crowd of officers.His face is cold and damp, he cannot repress the weeping drops,He lifts the glass perpetually to his eyes, the color is blanch’d from his cheeks,He sees the slaughter of the southern braves confided to him by their parents.

The same at last and at last when peace is declared,He stands in the room of the old tavern, the well-belov’d soldiers all pass through,The officers speechless and slow draw near in their turns,The chief encircles their necks with his arm and kisses them on the cheek,He kisses lightly the wet cheeks one after another, he shakes hands and bids good-by to the army.


Now what my mother told me one day as we sat at dinner together,Of when she was a nearly grown girl living home with her parents on the old homestead.

A red squaw came one breakfast-time to the old homestead,On her back she carried a bundle of rushes for rush-bottoming chairs,Her hair, straight, shiny, coarse, black, profuse, half-envelop’d her face,Her step was free and elastic, and her voice sounded exquisitely as she spoke.

My mother look’d in delight and amazement at the stranger,She look’d at the freshness of her tall-borne face and full and pliant limbs,The more she look’d upon her she loved her,Never before had she seen such wonderful beauty and purity,She made her sit on a bench by the jamb of the fireplace, she cook’d food for her,She had no work to give her, but she gave her remembrance and fondness.

The red squaw staid all the forenoon, and toward the middle of the afternoon she went away,O my mother was loth to have her go away,All the week she thought of her, she watch’d for her many a month,She remember’d her many a winter and many a summer,But the red squaw never came nor was heard of there again.


A show of the summer softness—a contact of something unseen—an amour of the light and air,I am jealous and overwhelm’d with friendliness,And will go gallivant with the light and air myself.

O love and summer, you are in the dreams and in me,Autumn and winter are in the dreams, the farmer goes with his thrift,The droves and crops increase, the barns are well-fill’d.

Elements merge in the night, ships make tacks in the dreams,The sailor sails, the exile returns home,The fugitive returns unharm’d, the immigrant is back beyond months and years,The poor Irishman lives in the simple house of his childhood with the well known neighbors and faces,They warmly welcome him, he is barefoot again, he forgets he is well off,The Dutchman voyages home, and the Scotchman and Welshman voyage home, and the native of the Mediterranean voyages home,To every port of England, France, Spain, enter well-fill’d ships,The Swiss foots it toward his hills, the Prussian goes his way, the Hungarian his way, and the Pole his way,The Swede returns, and the Dane and Norwegian return.

The homeward bound and the outward bound,The beautiful lost swimmer, the ennuye, the onanist, the female that loves unrequited, the money-maker,The actor and actress, those through with their parts and those waiting to commence,The affectionate boy, the husband and wife, the voter, the nominee that is chosen and the nominee that has fail’d,The great already known and the great any time after to-day,The stammerer, the sick, the perfect-form’d, the homely,The criminal that stood in the box, the judge that sat and sentenced him, the fluent lawyers, the jury, the audience,The laugher and weeper, the dancer, the midnight widow, the red squaw,The consumptive, the erysipalite, the idiot, he that is wrong’d,The antipodes, and every one between this and them in the dark,I swear they are averaged now—one is no better than the other,The night and sleep have liken’d them and restored them.

I swear they are all beautiful,Every one that sleeps is beautiful, every thing in the dim light is beautiful,The wildest and bloodiest is over, and all is peace.

Peace is always beautiful,The myth of heaven indicates peace and night.

The myth of heaven indicates the soul,The soul is always beautiful, it appears more or it appears less, it comes or it lags behind,It comes from its embower’d garden and looks pleasantly on itself and encloses the world,Perfect and clean the genitals previously jetting,and perfect and clean the womb cohering,The head well-grown proportion’d and plumb, and the bowels and joints proportion’d and plumb.

The soul is always beautiful,The universe is duly in order, every thing is in its place,What has arrived is in its place and what waits shall be in its place,The twisted skull waits, the watery or rotten blood waits,The child of the glutton or venerealee waits long, and the child of the drunkard waits long, and the drunkard himself waits long,The sleepers that lived and died wait, the far advanced are to go on in their turns, and the far behind are to come on in their turns,The diverse shall be no less diverse, but they shall flow and unite—they unite now.


The sleepers are very beautiful as they lie unclothed,They flow hand in hand over the whole earth from east to west as they lie unclothed,The Asiatic and African are hand in hand, the European and American are hand in hand,Learn’d and unlearn’d are hand in hand, and male and female are hand in hand,The bare arm of the girl crosses the bare breast of her lover, they press close without lust, his lips press her neck,The father holds his grown or ungrown son in his arms with measureless love, and the son holds the father in his arms with measureless love,The white hair of the mother shines on the white wrist of the daughter,The breath of the boy goes with the breath of the man, friend is inarm’d by friend,The scholar kisses the teacher and the teacher kisses the scholar, the wrong ’d made right,The call of the slave is one with the master’s call, and the master salutes the slave,The felon steps forth from the prison, the insane becomes sane, the suffering of sick persons is reliev’d,The sweatings and fevers stop, the throat that was unsound is sound, the lungs of the consumptive are resumed, the poor distress’d head is free,The joints of the rheumatic move as smoothly as ever, and smoother than ever,Stiflings and passages open, the paralyzed become supple,The swell’d and convuls’d and congested awake to themselves in condition,They pass the invigoration of the night and the chemistry of the night, and awake.

I too pass from the night,I stay a while away O night, but I return to you again and love you.

Why should I be afraid to trust myself to you?I am not afraid, I have been well brought forward by you,I love the rich running day, but I do not desert her in whom I lay so long,I know not how I came of you and I know not where I go with you, butI know I came well and shall go well.

I will stop only a time with the night, and rise betimes,I will duly pass the day O my mother, and duly return to you.


The poem ‘The Sleepers‘ by Walt Whitman depicts a scene of a magnificent, naked swimmer fearlessly navigating through the swirling currents of the sea.

The swimmer’s strong arms and legs propel him forward, and his unwavering eyes show determination. However, the poet resents the treacherous eddies that threaten to hurl him onto the rocks.

The poet addresses the waves, questioning their malicious intentions toward this brave giant. Will they end his life prematurely, just as he is in the prime of his middle-age?

Despite the challenges, the swimmer persists in his struggle, showing remarkable resilience. He fights against the relentless eddies, enduring bruises, and wounds, but he does not give in as long as his strength allows. Nevertheless, the water is tinged with his blood as the waves continue to assail him, eventually carrying him away in their swirling embrace.

The poem presents a vivid and intense account of the swimmer’s ordeal. It portrays the battle between human strength and the forces of nature, highlighting the swimmer’s determination and bravery in the face of adversity. Ultimately, the poem tells of a tragic end, as the swimmer’s beautiful body is carried away, battered and bruised, to be lost from sight.

Structure and Form

The poem ‘The Sleepers‘ by Walt Whitman is written in a free-verse form, with three stanzas that have unequal numbers of lines. The first stanza consists of four lines, the second stanza has two lines, and the third stanza comprises five lines. The poet utilizes this irregular structure to convey a sense of spontaneity and raw emotion.

The absence of a consistent rhyming scheme further emphasizes the poem’s free-verse nature, allowing Whitman to express himself without the constraints of traditional poetry. This lack of rhyme adds to the poem’s natural and unrestrained tone.

The first stanza sets the scene, describing a magnificent swimmer navigating through the sea’s eddies. The four lines briefly introduce the swimmer’s attributes: his beautiful body, courageous arms, and undaunted eyes.

The second stanza intensifies the emotions as the poet addresses the waves, accusing them of being ruffianly and red-trickled. In just two lines, the poet questions the waves’ intentions and conveys his strong disapproval of their actions.

The third stanza returns to a longer format, containing five lines, to vividly describe the swimmer’s struggle and tragic end. The swimmer’s steadfastness and determination are depicted in the lines that show his endurance in the face of the challenging eddies.

The structure and form of the poem reflect the theme of resilience in the face of adversity. The irregularity and lack of rhyme mirror the unpredictability of life and nature, while the varying stanza lengths emphasize the ebb and flow of the swimmer’s journey. Whitman’s choice of free verse allows him to express raw emotions and powerful imagery in a way that traditional forms might restrict.


In the poem ‘The Sleepers,’ Walt Whitman addresses several themes through vivid imagery and emotional expressions.

One prominent theme is the power of nature and its unpredictability. Whitman portrays the sea as a force of both beauty and danger. He describes the swimmer fearlessly navigating through the eddies of the sea, emphasizing the mesmerizing yet treacherous aspects of nature. The poet’s resentment towards the waves, which could potentially harm the courageous swimmer, showcases the unpredictable and unforgiving nature of the environment.

Another theme explored is human resilience and determination. Through the swimmer’s struggles, Whitman exemplifies the strength of the human spirit. The swimmer continues to fight against the fierce eddies despite being bruised and battered. His refusal to give up, even when faced with the relentless waves, highlights the indomitable nature of the human will.

The poem also delves into the fragility of life and the inevitability of mortality. The swimmer’s beautiful body, juxtaposed with the impending danger of the waves, reminds readers of the transient nature of existence. Whitman’s description of the swimmer’s body being borne away by the circling eddies and eventually disappearing from sight symbolizes the cycle of life and death.

Moreover, the poem touches on the theme of man versus nature. The swimmer’s bold endeavor to conquer the sea’s challenges reflects humanity’s age-old struggle to tame and understand the natural world. However, the outcome of the swimmer’s battle reveals the limits of human control over nature.

‘The Sleepers‘ explores themes of nature’s power, human resilience, mortality, and the struggle between man and the natural world. Whitman’s use of vivid imagery and emotional language enables these themes to resonate deeply with readers, provoking contemplation about the human experience and our place within the vastness of nature.

Poetic Techniques and Figurative Language

In ‘The Sleepers,’ Walt Whitman employs various poetic techniques and figurative language to convey his message effectively.

  • Imagery: One prominent technique is imagery, which allows Whitman to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. For example, when he describes the swimmer’s “beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies of the sea,” the reader can visualize the majestic and daring scene of the swimmer’s journey.
  • Personification: Whitman also uses personification, giving human-like qualities to the waves. He addresses the waves as “ruffianly red-trickled waves,” attributing malicious intent to the natural elements, enhancing the sense of conflict and danger.
  • Metaphors and Similes: Figurative language, such as metaphors and similes, further enriches the poem. The line “His brown hair lies close and even to his head” employs a simile to compare the swimmer’s hair to the sea’s currents, emphasizing his intimate connection with the water.
  • Repetition: The poet utilizes repetition as well, with the recurring phrase “I see” to emphasize the imagery of the swimmer’s actions and appearance. The repetition draws attention to the swimmer’s strength and vulnerability as he battles the waves.
  • Enjambment: The use of this technique is evident throughout the poem. The use of enjambment, as seen in “He is baffled, bang’d, bruis’d, he holds out while his strength holds out,” propels the reader to continue reading, enhancing the poem’s flow and urgency.

Through these techniques, Walt Whitman masterfully conveys the swimmer’s journey, the clash with nature, and the profound human experiences explored in ‘The Sleepers.’

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies of the sea,

His brown hair lies close and even to his head, he strikes out with courageous arms, he urges himself with his legs,

I see his white body, I see his undaunted eyes,

I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him head-foremost on the rocks.

In the first stanza of ‘The Sleepers,’ Walt Whitman paints a vivid and powerful image of a magnificent swimmer navigating through the eddies of the sea. The poem immediately captures the reader’s attention with its bold and vivid descriptions, inviting them to visualize the scene.

The use of imagery is central to the message conveyed in this stanza. Whitman’s ability to create clear mental pictures allows the reader to connect emotionally with the swimmer and the surrounding environment. The description of the swimmer as a “beautiful gigantic” figure implies both physical attractiveness and awe-inspiring size. This portrays the swimmer as a majestic and larger-than-life presence, emphasizing his significance in the poem.

The poet’s attention to detail further enhances the imagery. The swimmer’s “brown hair lies close and even to his head,” suggesting a seamless connection with the water and the fluidity of his movements. The image of the swimmer propelling himself through the sea with “courageous arms” and “urging himself with his legs” evokes a sense of strength and determination.

Moreover, the contrasting colors of the swimmer’s body are strikingly presented. The “white body” symbolizes purity and vulnerability, while the “undaunted eyes” convey fearlessness and resolve. This contrast highlights the swimmer’s bravery in the face of a potentially perilous situation.

The emotion of the poet is palpable in the line “I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him head-foremost on the rocks.” Here, the speaker’s hatred towards the eddies emphasizes the swimmer’s vulnerability and the inherent danger posed by the sea. This hatred also underscores the theme of man’s struggle against the unpredictable and uncontrollable forces of nature.

This first stanza of ‘The Sleepers‘ masterfully conveys a message of awe and admiration for the swimmer’s bravery and resilience in the face of a formidable natural challenge. Through powerful imagery and emotional language, Whitman invites the reader to reflect on the human experience of confronting adversity and the immense power of nature.

Stanza Two

What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves?

Will you kill the courageous giant? will you kill him in the prime of his middle-age?

In the second stanza, Walt Whitman introduces a dramatic shift in tone and perspective, as the speaker directly addresses the waves and questions their actions. This stanza serves to heighten the emotional intensity of the poem and further develop its central themes.

The use of direct address, with the lines “What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves?” creates a sense of confrontation between the speaker and the natural elements. The waves are personified as “ruffianly red-trickled,” implying a malicious and treacherous nature. This personification elevates the waves from mere physical phenomena to antagonistic characters that threaten the swimmer’s life.

The sense of urgency and concern intensifies with the rhetorical questions posed by the speaker: “Will you kill the courageous giant? will you kill him in the prime of his middle-age?” The repetition of “will you kill” underscores the gravity of the situation and the direness of the swimmer’s predicament. The swimmer, previously depicted as majestic and brave, is now portrayed as a “courageous giant” facing mortal danger.

This stanza contributes to the overarching theme of human vulnerability in the face of nature’s power. It highlights the uncertainty of life and the inevitability of mortality. The swimmer, despite his strength and bravery, is still subject to the whims of the natural world, as represented by the relentless waves.

The emotional impact of this stanza lies in the juxtaposition of the swimmer’s courageous spirit with the potentially tragic outcome. Whitman prompts the reader to empathize with the swimmer’s plight, feeling a sense of helplessness and concern for his survival.

Furthermore, the use of vivid and evocative language, such as “ruffianly,” “red-trickled,” and “courageous giant,” adds to the poem’s emotional resonance. The strong adjectives and metaphors heighten the reader’s emotional connection to the swimmer’s perilous situation, evoking feelings of fear, sympathy, and admiration.

Essentially, the second stanza of ‘The Sleepers‘ deepens the emotional impact of the poem by addressing the waves directly and questioning their intentions. Through personification, rhetorical questions, and vivid language, Walt Whitman underscores the vulnerability of humanity in the face of nature’s forces and reinforces the themes of mortality and the fragility of life.

Stanza Three

Steady and long he struggles,

He is baffled, bang’d, bruis’d, he holds out while his strength holds out,

The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood, they bear him away, they roll him, swing him, turn him,

His beautiful body is borne in the circling eddies, it is continually bruis’d on rocks,

Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse.

In the third stanza, Walt Whitman portrays the swimmer’s relentless struggle against the unforgiving waves, delving deeper into the theme of human resilience and the harsh realities of confronting nature’s power.

The opening line, “Steady and long he struggles,” emphasizes the swimmer’s determination and unwavering resolve. Despite facing numerous challenges, the swimmer persists in his efforts to survive, displaying a remarkable will to overcome adversity.

The use of alliteration in “baffled, bang’d, bruis’d” intensifies the impact of the swimmer’s ordeal, evoking a sense of physical and emotional turmoil. The repetition of “he holds out while his strength holds out” further emphasizes the swimmer’s endurance and perseverance, reinforcing the theme of human resilience in the face of overwhelming odds.

The imagery of the “slapping eddies” spotted with the swimmer’s blood highlights the violent and dangerous nature of the sea. The waves are depicted as hostile and ruthless, inflicting harm on the swimmer as they “bear him away” and subject him to a tumultuous journey of being “rolled,” “swung,” and “turned.”

The phrase “His beautiful body is borne in the circling eddies” brings attention to the swimmer’s vulnerability and emphasizes the contrast between his previous majesty and his current state of distress. The repetition of “bruised on rocks” emphasizes the physical toll of his struggle and underscores the harshness of his environment.

The final line, “Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse,” conveys the inevitable and tragic end of the swimmer’s battle. Despite his courage and tenacity, the forces of nature prove overwhelming, and the swimmer succumbs to the sea’s power.

Through this stanza, Whitman highlights the insignificance of human strength against the vastness and force of nature. He explores the human experience of confronting mortality and the transient nature of life. The poem’s exploration of human resilience, vulnerability, and mortality elicits a profound emotional response from the reader, prompting contemplation about the fleeting nature of existence and the inevitability of our ultimate fate.

This third stanza of ‘The Sleepers‘ serves as a poignant conclusion to the poem, deepening the exploration of human strength and vulnerability in the face of nature’s power. Through powerful imagery, repetition, and vivid language, Whitman conveys a message of resilience, mortality, and the relentless struggle against the forces of the natural world.


What is the tone in ‘The Sleepers?

The tone in ‘The Sleepers’ is a mixture of awe, concern, and contemplation as the speaker observes the swimmer’s courageous journey through the treacherous sea.

Why is the poem titled ‘The Sleepers?’

The poem is so-titled because it likely refers to the sleepers or dreamers who are unaware of the vastness and dangers of the natural world, contrasting with the swimmer who dares to confront it.

What feelings are triggered by the poem?

The poem triggers feelings of admiration for the swimmer’s bravery, a sense of vulnerability in the face of nature’s power, and contemplation about the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of mortality.

What is the mood of ‘The Sleepers?’

The mood oscillates between awe and wonder at the swimmer’s courage, anxiety, and concern for his safety, and a somber and contemplative tone as the poem delves into the profound themes of human resilience and mortality.

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Poetry+ Review Corner

The Sleepers

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 is a good representation of Walt Whitman's poems. The poem embodies many characteristics commonly found in Whitman's works, such as vivid imagery, emotional intensity, and a focus on nature and the human experience. It also showcases his use of free verse, direct address, and exploration of profound themes like mortality and the human spirit.
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19th Century

Walt Whitman's 'The Sleepers' is a unique representation of 19th-century poetry due to its departure from traditional forms and rhyme schemes. It stands out as an example of Whitman's innovative and free-spirited style, characterized by its vivid imagery, emotional depth, and exploration of existential themes. While some 19th-century poems adhered to conventional structures, Whitman's work broke new ground, paving the way for modern poetry.
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Walt Whitman's poem stands out among other American poems for its groundbreaking style and thematic depth. Whitman's innovative use of free verse and vivid imagery sets the poem apart, defying traditional poetic norms of the time. Moreover, the poem's exploration of human resilience, mortality, and the relationship between man and nature showcases Whitman's profound understanding of the human experience. 'The Sleepers' remains an influential work that exemplifies Whitman's significant impact on American poetry, challenging readers with its thought-provoking themes and evocative language.
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This poem subtly addresses the theme of celebration through the depiction of the swimmer's daring journey. The poem celebrates the swimmer's audacity to challenge the natural world, portraying him as a triumphant figure even in the face of potential danger. Through vivid imagery and admiration, Whitman subtly celebrates the human spirit's ability to embrace challenges.
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This poem indirectly addresses the theme of desire through the swimmer's determination to conquer the sea's challenges. His resolute pursuit of navigating the dangerous waters reflects a desire for triumph over adversity. The poem underscores the innate human longing to overcome obstacles and fulfill aspirations, revealing desire's role in driving courageous actions.
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This poem touches on the theme of dreams by presenting the swimmer's ambitious journey as a manifestation of his dreams. The swimmer's fearless pursuit through the turbulent sea reflects the realization of a daring aspiration. Walt Whitman's vivid portrayal captures the essence of pursuing dreams, juxtaposing the reality of struggle with the fulfillment of a visionary endeavor.
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This poem addresses the theme of journey by portraying the swimmer's daring venture through the tumultuous sea. The poem chronicles his physical and metaphorical journey, depicting his struggle against the forces of nature. This journey serves as a metaphor for the broader human experience, highlighting the challenges and uncertainties inherent in life's path.
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This poem triggers the emotion of bravery by depicting the swimmer's fearless confrontation with the unpredictable sea. Through vivid imagery and emotional language, the poem captures the swimmer's courageous arms and undaunted eyes as he navigates treacherous waters. This portrayal resonates with readers, evoking admiration and a profound sense of bravery.
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Through imagery and direct language, the poem evokes the emotion of courage by depicting the swimmer's unwavering resolve against perilous waves. The swimmer's fearless determination to navigate the treacherous sea elicits a sense of admiration and inspiration, resonating with readers' own capacity for bravery in the face of challenges.
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This poem elicits the emotion of fear through its portrayal of the swimmer's perilous journey. The description of the "swift-running eddies" and the potential danger they pose creates a sense of impending doom. The reader can empathize with the swimmer's vulnerability, evoking a feeling of trepidation and unease.
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This poem elicits the emotion of grief through its depiction of the swimmer's tragic fate. The imagery of the swimmer's "beautiful body" being bruised on rocks and carried away by circling eddies creates a somber tone. The reader's connection to the swimmer's struggle and ultimate demise evokes feelings of sorrow and loss, eliciting a sense of grief.
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This poem elicits the emotion of resilience through the swimmer's unyielding struggle against turbulent waves. The portrayal of his endurance amidst bruises and challenges resonates with the reader's own experiences of facing adversity. Walt Whitman's vivid imagery and emotional language evoke a profound sense of human tenacity, fostering a connection to the theme of resilience.
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This poem delves into the topic of adversity through the swimmer's bold confrontation with the treacherous sea. His resilience against the powerful eddies symbolizes humanity's struggle against formidable challenges. Walt Whitman's vivid imagery captures the tension between the swimmer and his hostile environment, underscoring the universal theme of overcoming adversity.
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Daily Life

This poem indirectly addresses the topic of daily life by contrasting the swimmer's daring journey with the everyday routine. The poem's depiction of a courageous struggle against nature's forces reflects the extraordinary aspects of human experience, standing in contrast to the mundane and routine elements of daily life.
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This poem explores the topic of humanity through the swimmer's courageous struggle against nature's might. The swimmer's resilience and vulnerability mirror the broader human experience, emphasizing the challenges and mortality shared by all. Walt Whitman's vivid imagery and emotional language create a connection between the swimmer's journey and the complexities of human existence.
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The poem indirectly addresses the topic of longing through the swimmer's determined pursuit of conquering the sea's challenges. His unwavering effort reflects a deep longing for triumph over adversity. Walt Whitman's vivid depiction captures the essence of human aspiration, highlighting the powerful role of longing in driving resolute actions.
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Overcoming Adversity

This poem looks into the topic of overcoming adversity through the swimmer's fearless navigation of treacherous waters. The depiction of his resolute struggle against the formidable eddies embodies the theme of triumph over challenges. Walt Whitman's vivid portrayal underscores the indomitable human spirit and its capacity to conquer adversity with determination and courage.
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Free Verse

This poem exemplifies free verse, a form characterized by its lack of rigid structure, rhyme, or meter. Walt Whitman's poem breaks away from conventional poetic norms, allowing him to express emotions and ideas freely. The absence of rhyme scheme and meter grants Whitman the flexibility to convey the swimmer's journey and the themes of human resilience and nature's power with a natural and unrestrictive flow.
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Hilary Benard Poetry Expert
Hilary has an MA in Comparative Literature & Critical Theories and BA in Comparative History. Courtesy of his expertise in literature and poetry, he has a depth of experience in a wide range of literary texts and movements: this includes the historical, cultural, and social contexts that produced them.

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