'I Sing The Body Electric' by Walt Whitman
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I SING the Body electric;
The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them;
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the
Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the
And if the body does not do as much as the Soul?
And if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?
The love of the Body of man or woman balks account--the body itself
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.10
The expression of the face balks account;
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face;
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of
his hips and wrists;
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist
and knees--dress does not hide him;
The strong, sweet, supple quality he has, strikes through the cotton
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more;
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-
The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the
folds of their dress, their style as we pass in the street, the
contour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the
transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up, and rolls
silently to and fro in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats--the horseman
in his saddle,20
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-
kettles, and their wives waiting,
The female soothing a child--the farmer's daughter in the garden or
The young fellow hoeing corn--the sleigh-driver guiding his six
horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty,
good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sundown,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and the under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine
muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes
suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes--the bent head, the curv'd
neck, and the counting;30
Such-like I love--I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother's
breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with
the firemen, and pause, listen, and count.
I know a man, a common farmer--the father of five sons;
And in them were the fathers of sons--and in them were the fathers of
This man was of wonderful vigor, calmness, beauty of person;
The shape of his head, the pale yellow and white of his hair and
beard, and the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes--the
richness and breadth of his manners,
These I used to go and visit him to see--he was wise also;
He was six feet tall, he was over eighty years old--his sons were
massive, clean, bearded, tan-faced, handsome;
They and his daughters loved him--all who saw him loved him;
They did not love him by allowance--they loved him with personal
He drank water only--the blood show'd like scarlet through the clear-
brown skin of his face;
He was a frequent gunner and fisher--he sail'd his boat himself--he
had a fine one presented to him by a ship-joiner--he had
fowling-pieces, presented to him by men that loved him;
When he went with his five sons and many grand-sons to hunt or fish,
you would pick him out as the most beautiful and vigorous of
You would wish long and long to be with him--you would wish to sit by
him in the boat, that you and he might touch each other.
I have perceiv'd that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is
To pass among them, or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly
round his or her neck for a moment--what is this, then?
I do not ask any more delight--I swim in it, as in a sea.
There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on
them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the
All things please the soul--but these please the soul well.
This is the female form;
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot;
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction!
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor--
all falls aside but myself and it;
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, the
atmosphere and the clouds, and what was expected of heaven or
fear'd of hell, are now consumed;
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it--the response
Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands, all
diffused--mine too diffused;
Ebb stung by the flow, and flow stung by the ebb--love-flesh swelling
and deliciously aching;
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of
love, white-blow and delirious juice;60
Bridegroom night of love, working surely and softly into the
Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh'd day.
This is the nucleus--after the child is born of woman, the man is
born of woman;
This is the bath of birth--this is the merge of small and large, and
the outlet again.
Be not ashamed, women--your privilege encloses the rest, and is the
exit of the rest;
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.
The female contains all qualities, and tempers them--she is in her
place, and moves with perfect balance;
She is all things duly veil'd--she is both passive and active;
She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as
As I see my soul reflected in nature;
As I see through a mist, one with inexpressible completeness and
See the bent head, and arms folded over the breast--the female I see.
The male is not less the soul, nor more--he too is in his place;
He too is all qualities--he is action and power;
The flush of the known universe is in him;
Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defiance become him well;
The wildest largest passions, bliss that is utmost, sorrow that is
utmost, become him well--pride is for him;
The full-spread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul;
Knowledge becomes him--he likes it always--he brings everything to
the test of himself;80
Whatever the survey, whatever the sea and the sail, he strikes
soundings at last only here;
(Where else does he strike soundings, except here?)
The man's body is sacred, and the woman's body is sacred;
No matter who it is, it is sacred;
Is it a slave? Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on
Each belongs here or anywhere, just as much as the well-off--just as
much as you;
Each has his or her place in the procession.
(All is a procession;
The universe is a procession, with measured and beautiful motion.)
Do you know so much yourself, that you call the slave or the dull-
Do you suppose you have a right to a good sight, and he or she has no
right to a sight?
Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float--and
the soil is on the surface, and water runs, and vegetation
For you only, and not for him and her?
A man's Body at auction;
I help the auctioneer--the sloven does not half know his business.
Gentlemen, look on this wonder!
Whatever the bids of the bidders, they cannot be high enough for it;
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years, without one
animal or plant;
For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll'd.
In this head the all-baffling brain;100
In it and below it, the makings of heroes.
Examine these limbs, red, black, or white--they are so cunning in
tendon and nerve;
They shall be stript, that you may see them.
Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,
Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant back-bone and neck, flesh not flabby,
good-sized arms and legs,
And wonders within there yet.
Within there runs blood,
The same old blood!
The same red-running blood!
There swells and jets a heart--there all passions, desires,
Do you think they are not there because they are not express'd in
parlors and lecture-rooms?
This is not only one man--this is the father of those who shall be
fathers in their turns;
In him the start of populous states and rich republics;
Of him countless immortal lives, with countless embodiments and
How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring
through the centuries?
Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace
back through the centuries?
A woman's Body at auction!
She too is not only herself--she is the teeming mother of mothers;
She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the
Have you ever loved the Body of a woman?120
Have you ever loved the Body of a man?
Your father--where is your father?
Your mother--is she living? have you been much with her? and has she
been much with you?
--Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all, in all
nations and times, all over the earth?
If any thing is sacred, the human body is sacred,
And the glory and sweet of a man, is the token of manhood untainted;
And in man or woman, a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is beautiful
as the most beautiful face.
Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool
that corrupted her own live body?
For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.
O my Body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women,
nor the likes of the parts of you;130
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the
Soul, (and that they are the Soul;)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems--and
that they are poems,
Man's, woman's, child's, youth's, wife's, husband's, mother's,
father's, young man's, young woman's poems;
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eye-brows, and the waking or
sleeping of the lids,
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-
Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,
Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample
side-round of the chest.
Upper-arm, arm-pit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews,
Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, fore-finger,
finger-balls, finger-joints, finger-nails,
Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-
Ribs, belly, back-bone, joints of the back-bone,
Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls,
Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,
Leg-fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under leg,
Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;
All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your
body, or of any one's body, male or female,
The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,
The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame,150
Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,
Womanhood, and all that is a woman--and the man that comes from
The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping,
love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,
The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,
Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and
The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
The skin, the sun-burnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels, when feeling with the hand the naked
meat of the body,
The circling rivers, the breath, and breathing it in and out,160
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward
toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you, or within me--the bones, and the
marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say, these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of
O I say now these are the Soul!
Editor 1 Interpretation
I Sing The Body Electric: A Celebration of Human Life and Spirit
When Walt Whitman published his collection of poems, Leaves of Grass in 1855, he introduced a new kind of poetry that celebrated the beauty and dignity of human life, especially the physical body. One of the most famous poems in this collection is "I Sing The Body Electric," a joyous ode to the human body and spirit, which has become a classic in American literature. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will examine the theme, structure, and style of this poem, and explore its significance in Whitman's poetic vision.
Theme: The Beauty and Unity of the Human Body and Spirit
At the heart of "I Sing The Body Electric" is the theme of the beauty and unity of the human body and spirit. Whitman celebrates the physical and sensual aspects of life, especially the human body, which he sees as a source of joy and power. He rejects the traditional religious and moralistic views that condemn the body as sinful or corrupt, and instead embraces a more democratic and inclusive vision of human life. He sees all human bodies as equal, regardless of their race, gender or social status, and celebrates their diversity as a source of richness and vitality.
The poem consists of nine stanzas, each with a refrain that repeats the title phrase, "I sing the body electric." This refrain serves as a kind of manifesto or declaration of faith, proclaiming the poet's commitment to celebrating the human body and spirit. The stanzas explore different aspects of the body and its connection to the world, from the feet and hands to the brain and soul. Each stanza is like a snapshot of a particular moment or experience, capturing the essence of human life in vivid and sensual language.
Structure: The Free Verse Form of Whitman's Poetry
One of the most distinctive features of Whitman's poetry is his use of free verse, which means that he does not follow a strict rhyme scheme or meter. Instead, he uses a flexible and improvisational style, in which the rhythms and sounds of the language are determined by the natural and organic flow of the voice. This gives his poetry a sense of spontaneity and freedom, as if the words are emerging directly from the poet's mind and heart.
"I Sing The Body Electric" is a good example of Whitman's free verse style. The poem has a loose and open structure, with each stanza consisting of several lines of varying lengths and no set rhyme scheme. The lines are separated by a rhythmic punctuation, which gives the poem a musical quality and helps to emphasize the repeated refrain. The poem also features a number of rhetorical devices, such as repetition, alliteration, and parallelism, which add to its emotional and rhetorical power.
Style: The Sensual and Spiritual Power of Whitman's Language
Whitman's style is characterized by its sensual and spiritual power, which arises from his use of vivid and concrete imagery, and his ability to connect physical experience with spiritual insight. He describes the human body in all its details, from the "slender, strong, elastic nerves" in the feet, to the "soft, delicate, warm, moist, and delicious" flesh of the lips. He also links these physical attributes with broader themes of love, death, and transcendence, suggesting that the human body is a gateway to the divine.
"I Sing The Body Electric" is a masterful example of Whitman's style. The poem is filled with sensual and visceral images, such as the "legs of a man" that "are stout as columns," and the "breast of a woman" that "swells out with purest venom." These images are not only descriptive but also symbolic, suggesting the power and beauty of the human body. Whitman's language is also infused with a spiritual dimension, as he suggests that the body is not only a physical entity but also a source of mystical insight and transcendence.
Significance: The Cultural and Literary Impact of Whitman's Poetry
"I Sing The Body Electric" is not only a powerful poem in its own right but also a significant work in the development of American literature and culture. Whitman's celebration of the human body and spirit challenged the traditional values and beliefs of his time, and helped to create a new kind of poetry that was more democratic, inclusive, and experimental. He influenced a whole generation of poets, including Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Allen Ginsberg, and his legacy can be seen in the work of contemporary poets such as Louise Glück and Tracy K. Smith.
Whitman's poetry also has broader cultural and political implications, as it celebrates the diversity and unity of the American people, and promotes a vision of democracy and equality. His work has been embraced by many social and political movements, from the civil rights movement of the 1960s to the LGBTQ rights movement of today. His influence can be seen in the work of writers, musicians, and artists of all kinds, who continue to draw inspiration from his passionate and visionary language.
Conclusion: An Ode to the Joy and Power of Human Life
"I Sing The Body Electric" is a timeless work of poetry that celebrates the joy and power of human life, especially the physical body. Whitman's passionate and visionary language captures the beauty and unity of the human body and spirit, and challenges traditional values and beliefs that condemn the body as sinful or corrupt. His use of free verse and vivid imagery, along with his spiritual and mystical insights, have had a profound impact on American literature and culture, and continue to inspire and influence readers and writers today. This poem is not only a work of art but also a call to embrace the fullness and richness of our human experience, and to celebrate the diversity and unity of our common humanity.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry has the power to evoke emotions and stir the soul. One such poem that has stood the test of time is "I Sing The Body Electric" by Walt Whitman. This classic piece of literature is a celebration of the human body and its connection to the universe. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and literary devices used in this poem.
The poem is divided into five sections, each exploring a different aspect of the human body. The first section begins with the line "I sing the body electric," which sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Whitman is celebrating the body and its connection to the universe. He sees the body as a conduit for the divine, and he believes that every part of the body is sacred.
In the second section, Whitman explores the physical aspects of the body. He describes the body as "perfect," "strong," and "supple." He celebrates the muscles, bones, and organs that make up the body. He also acknowledges the imperfections of the body, such as scars and blemishes, but sees them as a part of the body's unique beauty.
The third section of the poem is a celebration of the senses. Whitman describes the body's ability to taste, touch, smell, see, and hear. He sees the senses as a way to connect with the world around us and to experience life to the fullest. He also acknowledges the spiritual aspect of the senses, seeing them as a way to connect with the divine.
The fourth section of the poem is a celebration of sexuality. Whitman sees sex as a natural and beautiful part of the human experience. He celebrates the body's ability to experience pleasure and sees it as a way to connect with others on a deep level. He also acknowledges the importance of consent and mutual respect in sexual relationships.
The final section of the poem is a celebration of the soul. Whitman sees the body as a vessel for the soul, and he believes that the soul is connected to the universe. He sees the soul as eternal and believes that it will continue to exist even after the body has died.
Throughout the poem, Whitman uses a variety of literary devices to convey his message. One of the most prominent devices is repetition. The phrase "I sing the body electric" is repeated throughout the poem, emphasizing the central theme of the poem. Whitman also uses repetition to create a sense of rhythm and flow in the poem.
Another literary device used in the poem is imagery. Whitman uses vivid descriptions to paint a picture of the body and its connection to the universe. For example, he describes the body as "the limbs and the sternum, the hips and the shoulder-blades," creating a vivid image of the body's physical structure.
Whitman also uses metaphor to convey his message. For example, he compares the body to "the trees, the animals, the rivers, and the mountains," emphasizing the body's connection to the natural world. He also compares the body to "the sun, the moon, and the stars," emphasizing its connection to the universe.
In conclusion, "I Sing The Body Electric" is a powerful celebration of the human body and its connection to the universe. Whitman sees the body as a conduit for the divine, and he celebrates every part of the body as sacred. Through repetition, imagery, and metaphor, he conveys his message with passion and conviction. This poem is a timeless masterpiece that continues to inspire and move readers to this day.
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