Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 30th Aug, 2009

Erin for September 1st.

Since I’m not sure what I’m doing at this point, I decided to just blog about one of the questions for this week, “What relationship does Whitman construct with the reader?”

Simple question, complex answer. There are so many facets to the connection Whitman tries to establish with the reader. At times he is impersonal and worldly, and at other times he is exclusive and intimate. The aim of the poem seems to switch from addressing the world and everyone it in, to simply addressing the reader, and telling them what he thinks. There were times when I was reading that I felt as if Whitman were convincing me that what he was saying was unique, wonderful and solely for me. Whitman tells me,

“This hour I tell things in confidence,

I might not tell everybody but I will tell you.”

He puts me in the position of confidant, as secret keeper. I alone am hearing his deepest thoughts, things he has been longing to tell someone. In the biography we read, it mentions how Whitman wanted to reach through the pages and physically touch the reader. I found that interesting when thinking about how often Whitman mentions touching another person, whether it’s clasping their hand or putting his arm around their waist, or an allusion to sex.

“Hands I have taken, face I have kissed, mortal I have ever touched, it shall be you.”

The sensuality he wants to establish between himself and the reader, as well as the way he convinces the reader that what they are reading is private and for them makes me think of a love letter.  While the poem seems to be a love letter to Whitman himself, as well as nature and life, I read it as a love letter to the reader as well.

            While Whitman wants the reader to believe he is telling them vast and important secrets, he also seems to be imploring the reader to believe him and think as he does. It’s a love letter to someone that he’s not sure returns his love at all, so he needs to convince us that his love is worthwhile, and it’s going to last, that he really knows what he is talking about.

            “I know perfectly well my own egotism,

            And I know my omniverous words, and cannot say any less,

            And would fetch you whoever you are flush with myself.”

            He wants to hold me captive in his thoughts, to see things the way he sees them. He is using his charm full force, but as a reader, do I fall for it? It’s easy to be blinded by someone’s outpouring of passion for you, but do I really believe all the things Whitman tells me? We’ll see.


I really enjoyed your posting, mostly because it is unique amongst the others that I have read thus far. I too felt and intimacy between Whitman and myself while reading this poem, as if every word was constructed specifically to captivate. I agree that he is charismatic with this syntax, seductive even.

Great Post
-Caryn Levine


I very much agree with you on the idea that “Song of Myself” is a love letter to the reader as well as Whitman. I read “Song of Myself” as a kind of hyper-unification.Whitman is a fan of polysyndetons throughout the whole piece, and he rushes to connect each and every aspect of the country in a seemingly endless list, almost as if he wanted to make sure that no one was excluded. Whitman’s sexuality overflows on the page as well; I can’t remember how many times I underlined something to do with sex in the poem. There are also several times when he specifically calls out to the reader, utilizing first and second person pronouns, such as when he says, “Did it make you ache so leaving me” (56). It’s almost as if he’s blaming -us- for closing the pages. I don’t know what you were talking about; I think that this was an excellent first post.


Erin, you are right, it was a complex question to answer because throughout the poem Whitman mentions and address a variety of individuals but at the same time establishes a personal relationship with the reader. Maybe we should take the advice that Whitman gives us and “listen to all sides and filter them from yourself” (28). Also, I thought the idea of the poem being a love letter is brilliant. I thought it seemed as though Whitman was bragging about his many experiences, beliefs, and talents, and wants the reader to follow his ways and ideas. Reading your post, helped reinforce this thought. Great job!

I also really liked the idea of the poem as something that claimed (demanded?) intimacy and yet is still trying to seduce, to win over, to secure, whether through tender persuasion or bombast. That’s an idea I’ve thought about much more with Dickinson than Whitman, but you’ve got my mind working on it now.

[…] of you in your blog posts for 9/1 are also struggling with it (e.g., Sam P, Jessica, Ben, Meghan, Erin– you guys really have me thinking).  To wit (NOT twit), how can Whitman be, in my […]

I found your post interesting partly because I had a completely different impression when reading his poem. While reading it I felt that he was requiring me to share his words with everyone around me. I felt that to keep them private would be selfish.

After reading your post I went back to see ow we could have such opposite reactions and in doing so I bean to see the more intimate side of Whitman’s writing. I think this shows the power of Witman’s words that he manages to invoke such varied reactions with one piece

I, for one, love this idea about parts of this being a secret shared between Whitman and the reader. It makes for such an interesting juxtaposition in that, in a sense, he is trying to get up close and personal with everyone who reads his work. It leads to this glorious image in my head of a Whitman who has this juicy little secret that he’s been sworn not to tell and so instead of declaring it to everyone, he wanders around telling one person at a time and swearing them to secrecy. I don’t know what my obsession is so far with interesting pictures of Whitman in my head, but i really enjoy this image of Whitman-as-gossip.


Leave a response

Your response:


Skip to toolbar