'Had I The Choice' by Walt Whitman
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Leaves of Grass1900Had I the choice to tally greatest bards,
To limn their portraits, stately, beautiful, and emulate at will,
Homer with all his wars and warriors--Hector, Achilles, Ajax,
Or Shakespeare's woe-entangled Hamlet, Lear, Othello--Tennyson'sfair ladies,
Meter or wit the best, or choice conceit to wield in perfect rhyme,delight of singers;
These, these, O sea, all these I'd gladly barter,
Would you the undulation of one wave, its trick to me transfer,
Or breathe one breath of yours upon my verse,
And leave its odor there.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Had I The Choice: A Masterpiece of Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman, the father of free verse, is known for his unconventional writing style that broke away from the traditional poetic structures of his time. In his poem, Had I The Choice, Whitman's free verse technique is on full display. The poem is a masterpiece of self-expression in which Whitman explores his desire for freedom and individuality.
At first glance, Had I The Choice may seem like a simple poem, but upon closer inspection, it reveals layers of meaning and emotion. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in Whitman's poem.
The central theme of Had I The Choice is the desire for individuality and freedom. Whitman laments the societal constraints that limit his personal expression and prevent him from being his true self. He longs for a life free from the expectations of others, where he can be himself without fear of judgment.
Whitman's desire for freedom is reflected in his use of nature imagery throughout the poem. He describes the beauty of the natural world, unencumbered by the conventions of society. The freedom of nature serves as a contrast to the restrictions of human society, highlighting the limitations that Whitman feels.
Another theme in the poem is the concept of mortality. Whitman reflects on the brevity of life and the importance of living authentically. He recognizes the fleeting nature of existence and the need to make the most of the time we have.
Whitman's use of imagery in Had I The Choice is powerful and evocative. He uses nature imagery to convey a sense of freedom and beauty. The opening lines of the poem set the tone:
Had I the choice to tally greatest bards,
To limn their portraits, stately, beautiful, and emulate at will,
Homer with all his wars and warriors—Hector, Achilles, Ajax,
Or Shakespeare’s woe-entangled Hamlet, Lear, Othello—Tennyson’s fair ladies,
Meter or wit the best or swiftest, or the deepest declaimer,
Or any or all, complete, Sweet singer of Michigan.
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker,
Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.
I resist any thing better than my own diversity,
Breathe the air but leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.
Here, Whitman describes the various roles he has played in his life, highlighting his diversity and individuality. He resists the idea of conforming to any one particular role, instead choosing to embrace his unique identity.
Throughout the poem, Whitman uses vivid imagery to illustrate his desire for freedom. He describes himself as a bird, longing to fly away:
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.
This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
This imagery creates a sense of movement and freedom, highlighting Whitman's desire to break free from the constraints of society and live life to the fullest.
Whitman's use of language in Had I The Choice is both powerful and beautiful. He uses a free verse style that allows him to express himself fully, without being constrained by traditional poetic structures.
One of the most striking aspects of the poem is Whitman's use of repetition. He repeats certain phrases and ideas throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm and unity. For example, the phrase "had I the choice" appears several times throughout the poem, emphasizing Whitman's desire for individuality.
The language used in Had I The Choice is also very sensory. Whitman uses vivid descriptions of nature and the world around him, creating a rich sensory experience for the reader. This sensory language serves to emphasize the beauty and freedom that Whitman seeks.
Another notable aspect of Whitman's language is his use of symbolism. He uses symbols such as birds and grass to represent his desire for freedom and individuality. These symbols serve to connect the reader to the emotional core of the poem, making it more impactful and memorable.
In conclusion, Had I The Choice is a masterpiece of self-expression and individuality. Walt Whitman's use of free verse, vivid imagery, and powerful language create a poem that is both beautiful and impactful.
The poem speaks to the desire for freedom and authenticity that is present in all of us. Whitman's words remind us of the importance of living life on our own terms, of embracing our individuality, and of making the most of the time we have.
Had I The Choice is a timeless work of literature that continues to resonate with readers today. It is a testament to the power of poetry to inspire, uplift, and connect us to our deepest emotions and desires.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry is a form of art that has the power to evoke emotions, inspire change, and capture the essence of life. One of the most celebrated poets of all time is Walt Whitman, whose works continue to resonate with readers today. Among his many poems, "Had I The Choice" stands out as a masterpiece that explores the complexities of life and death. In this analysis, we will delve into the themes, structure, and language of this poem to understand its significance.
The poem "Had I The Choice" was first published in 1867 as part of Whitman's collection "Drum-Taps." It is a short but powerful poem that consists of only four stanzas, each with four lines. The poem's structure is simple, yet it conveys a profound message about the human condition. The poem's title suggests that the speaker is contemplating a choice, but it is not clear what that choice is until the final stanza.
The first stanza sets the tone for the poem and introduces the theme of mortality. The speaker begins by stating, "Had I the choice to tally greatest bards," which suggests that the speaker is considering the legacy of great poets who have come before him. The use of the word "tally" implies that the speaker is measuring the greatness of these poets, perhaps comparing them to himself. The second line, "To limn their portraits, stately, beautiful, and emulate at will," suggests that the speaker is not content with simply admiring these poets but wants to emulate them. The use of the word "limn" is significant because it means to depict or portray, which implies that the speaker wants to capture the essence of these poets in his own work. The final two lines of the stanza, "Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Tennyson," are a list of some of the greatest poets in history, which emphasizes the speaker's reverence for their work.
The second stanza shifts the focus from the past to the present and introduces the theme of life. The speaker states, "I'd choose to read with master eyes," which suggests that the speaker wants to see the world through the eyes of a master. The use of the word "read" is significant because it implies that the speaker wants to understand the world in a deeper way, as if reading a book. The second line, "Humanities' volumes, stored in silence long," suggests that the speaker wants to explore the vast knowledge that humanity has accumulated over time. The final two lines of the stanza, "The histories, the poems, the romances, the rest," are a list of the different types of literature that the speaker wants to read. This list emphasizes the breadth of the speaker's interests and suggests that he wants to experience all that life has to offer.
The third stanza returns to the theme of mortality and introduces the idea of death. The speaker states, "Had I the choice of the manner of my death," which suggests that the speaker is contemplating his own mortality. The second line, "I'd choose a long, sleep, and quiet sleep," suggests that the speaker wants to die peacefully, without pain or suffering. The use of the word "sleep" is significant because it implies that the speaker sees death as a form of rest, perhaps even a release from the struggles of life. The final two lines of the stanza, "And I to be the bard of death, chant mournfully and low," suggest that the speaker wants to write about death and capture its essence in his work. This idea is significant because it suggests that the speaker sees death as a natural part of life and wants to explore its meaning.
The final stanza reveals the choice that the speaker has been contemplating throughout the poem. The speaker states, "Had I the heart to do it, shall I find a better theme?" which suggests that the speaker has been considering whether to focus on life or death in his work. The use of the word "heart" is significant because it implies that the speaker's choice is not just a matter of intellect but also of emotion. The final two lines of the poem, "A loftier strain, a mightier wave to sound, and chant my days," suggest that the speaker has chosen to focus on life and wants to write about it in a more elevated way. This choice is significant because it suggests that the speaker sees life as a more powerful and inspiring theme than death.
In terms of language, "Had I The Choice" is a masterful example of Whitman's poetic style. The poem is written in free verse, which means that it does not follow a strict rhyme or meter. This style allows Whitman to experiment with language and create a more natural and conversational tone. The poem is also characterized by its use of repetition, which emphasizes certain words and phrases and creates a sense of rhythm. For example, the repetition of the phrase "Had I the choice" in the first three stanzas creates a sense of anticipation and emphasizes the speaker's contemplation. The poem also makes use of alliteration, which is the repetition of consonant sounds. For example, the phrase "chant mournfully and low" in the third stanza creates a haunting and melancholic tone.
In conclusion, "Had I The Choice" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the themes of life and death. Through its simple structure and masterful use of language, the poem conveys a profound message about the human condition. The poem's final choice to focus on life rather than death is significant because it suggests that Whitman sees life as a more powerful and inspiring theme. This poem is a testament to Whitman's skill as a poet and his ability to capture the essence of life in his work.
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