I believe Whitman’s Song of Myself provides the reader with tools to construct the identity of the poem’s speaker, Walt Whitman: or, conversely, begin to identify the elements that make up themselves as readers. The opening lines emotionally connect the reader to the “I” through a shared need to “celebrate” with “every atom” (4) of their being. This simple, subtle connection allows for the poem to be interpreted in numerous ways: specifically, the (I)deal America that Whitman is striving to create within the poem. As a result, the matter of which “I” is being celebrated morphs into the project of cataloguing the ideal characteristics that the speaker engenders in both.
Evidence: “I am enamored of growing outdoors” (9).
Expansion and the great outdoors arguably make up the backbone of Whitman’s Song of Myself. The speaker takes inventory of his observations in a manner similar to a cartographer sketching an early map of the United States of America.
Evidence: “I play not a march for victors only…I play great marches for conquered and slain persons” (12) & “In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less” (14).
These passages provided me with explanations for several other passages I would encounter throughout the poem. I believe that this line is significant because it points to a sense of balance that must exist between reader and poet, man and country and mankind and earth.
Evidence: “I become any presence or truth of humanity here” (30)
When the speaker makes this exertion, I interpret it to be a commentary on the need for fluidity regarding the state of mankind and the expanding United States. Just as the states were experiencing growth and expansion, man must also be open to growth and expansion of the mind.