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What is meant by “Song of the Universal?” Rather than using the noun universe, Whitman chooses to entitle the poem “Song of the Universal” (emphasis mine), using instead what appears to be an adjectival form of the word. Is this, however, how it is used? The OED defines universal in the modern sense, “extending over, comprehending, or including the whole of something specified or implied; prevalent over all,” but it is also shows the word being used in a manner more conducive to the reading of the poem, “Proceeding from the whole body or number; committed, given, made, etc…, by all without exception of the persons to whom there is reference or allusion.”


The invocation of the muse is a highly traditional way of beginning a poem. In invoking the muse (or, in this case, telling a story of the Muse), the speaker of the poem is tying into the larger history of poetry and the bard tradition.

However, at the same time, the Muse is invoking the poet to come forward, even though the reader is not informed that the speaker is a bard/poet until the next line.


Repeated in the second and third lines of the first stanza, the word “sing” further ties the poem into the tradition of the bard because before the widespread availability of printed texts and increased literacy, most works by bards were all oral tales, told by the bard on his travels.


Grossness refers to materiality and coarseness, want of fineness. Slag is the refuse left after processing metals and other materials.


This stanza balances the intangibility of “this broad earth” and the very physical presence of “grossness and the slag” (ll. 4–5).


This stanza introduces indeterminacy into the poem, which will continue to pervade the rest of the text.


This line places the reader between life and non-existence. What does the “it” of the first clause refer to? Possibility of inverted syntax?


Section two is opened similarly to section one in the fact that it ties the poem into the oral tradition of the poem. The speaker begins the first stanza with “Lo!” Despite this seeming connection with the first section, the movement from the first section to the second section cannot be called an organic transition, but it is instead a jarring one. The first section, while extensive, is largely based in the imagery of the earth used in the second stanza and relies heavily on nurturing language. The second section appears to abandon this theme with its first line.


The second line of this stanza further enforces science’s position of power placing it on “tall peaks” (l. 11).


Not only does science have authority in this stanza, but it makes use of it. Fiats are defined as commands. Placing the adjective “absolute” before fiats makes science the all-powerful force, at least in this stanza.


The power of science is undermined here by the power/presence of the soul.


A much-tacking ship is a ship that is over-burdened and is having difficulty moving through the water.


The incomplete becomes complete and the real shifts to become idealized.


In order for the state of “perfection” to be reached, the classic polar opposites—good and evil—must become neutralized in the journey.


Trunk’s meaning is ambiguous here: it could mean the body of the tree, or, as is more likely, it refers to the core of the human body otherwise known as the torso.


This stanza introduces “practical” applications of the disease mentioned in the previous stanza. Whitman’s discontent/disillusionment with politics can be strongly seen in these lines.


Introduces a cure to the previously mentioned disease?


Reference to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) in which because of the pride of people, all of the people in the city of Babel were forced by God to speak different languages and no one understood one another.


Whitman’s general rejection of organized religion is seen in this line. Organized religion as not good enough for America?


Here, however, Whitman’s own transition to a believer in God can be seen. This stanza may be likened to a prayer. Absence of Muse, Presence of God…Significance?


After building sixty-one lines of speaker-reader relationship, the poem in the sixth and final stanza of the poem, undermines this relationship by using a convention that is generally seen as a faux pas in fiction—the dream ending. With the creation of this crutch, the veracity of the speaker is brought into question and the poem leads to a dead end because the reader can no longer trust the speaker of the poem.

1 0


2 1

COME said the Muse,

3 0

Sing me a song no poet yet has chanted,

4 1

Sing me the universal.

5 0


6 1

In this broad earth of ours,

7 1

Amid the measureless grossness and the slag,

8 0

Enclosed and safe within its central heart,

9 0

Nestles the seed perfection.

10 0


11 1

By every life a share or more or less,

12 1

None born but it is born, conceald or unconceald the seed is waiting.

13 0


14 1

Lo! keen-eyed towering science,

15 1

As from tall peaks the modern overlooking,

16 1

Successive absolute fiats issuing.

17 0


18 1

Yet again, lo! the soul, above all science,

19 0

For it has history gatherd like husks around the globe,

20 0

For it the entire star-myriads roll through the sky.

21 0


22 0

In spiral routes by long detours,

23 1

(As a much-tacking ship upon the sea,)

24 1

For it the partial to the permanent flowing,

25 0

For it the real to the ideal tends.

26 0


27 0

For it the mystic evolution,

28 1

Not the right only justified, what we call evil also justified.

29 0


30 0

Forth from their masks, no matter what,

31 1

From the huge festering trunk, from craft and guile and tears,

32 0

Health to emerge and joy, joy universal.

33 0


34 1

Out of the bulk, the morbid and the shallow,

35 0

Out of the bad majority, the varied countless frauds of men and states,

36 1

Electric, antiseptic yet, cleaving, suffusing all,

37 0

Only the good is universal.

38 0


39 0

Over the mountain-growths disease and sorrow,

40 0

An uncaught bird is ever hovering, hovering,

41 0

High in the purer, happier air.

42 0


43 0

From imperfections murkiest cloud,

44 0

Darts always forth one ray of perfect light,

45 0

One flash of heavens glory.

46 0


47 0

To fashions, customs discord,

48 1

To the mad Babel-din, the deafening orgies,

49 0

Soothing each lull a strain is heard, just heard,

50 0

From some far shore the final chorus sounding.

51 0


52 0

O the blest eyes, the happy hearts,

53 0

That see, that know the guiding thread so fine,

54 0

Along the mighty labyrinth.

55 0


56 0

And thou America,

57 0

For the schemes culmination, its thought and its reality,

58 0

For these (not for thyself) thou hast arrived.

59 0


60 0

Thou too surroundest all,

61 0

Embracing carrying welcoming all, thou too by pathways broad and new,

62 0

To the ideal tendest.

63 0


64 1

The measurd faiths of other lands, the grandeurs of the past,

65 0

Are not for thee, but grandeurs of thine own,

66 0

Deific faiths and amplitudes, absorbing, comprehending all,

67 0

All eligible to all.

68 0


69 0

All, all for immortality,

70 0

Love like the light silently wrapping all,

71 0

Natures amelioration blessing all,

72 0

The blossoms, fruits of ages, orchards divine and certain,

73 0

Forms, objects, growths, humanities, to spiritual images ripening.

74 0


75 1

Give me O God to sing that thought,

76 0

Give me, give him or her I love this quenchless faith,

77 0

In Thy ensemble, whatever else withheld withhold not from us,

78 0

Belief in plan of Thee enclosed in Time and Space,

79 0

Health, peace, salvation universal.

80 0


81 1

Is it a dream?

82 0

Nay but the lack of it the dream,

83 0

And failing it lifes lore and wealth a dream,

84 0

And all the world a dream.