Whitman’s subject is himself, but it is clear that Whitman means more than just his physical self. Whitman calls himself a universe of meanings. He uses the symbol of his naked self in nature to symbolize his own fusion with the world around him. Whitman’s self is the whole of America and the whole of nature. This is best seen in Whitman’s use of the catalog. A catalog is a literary device used in epic poetry as a rhetorical naming or inventory. Whitman uses a catalog in “Song of Myself” to name a variety of professions and people that he meets on his journey across the States. He says that he becomes part of these people and these people come to compose his own self.
In this section, Whitman first engages the idea of individuality and collectivity. The catalog is Whitman’s example of the collective. This refers back to his opening inscription in which Whitman proclaimed that his work is of the self, both the individual self and the democratic self. The collection of all people in the land forms a self that is distinct from the individual self, yet is similar in that it has its own soul and being.
Whitman uses the metaphor of grass in the sixth section of “Songs of Myself” to try and explain the democratic self. His explanation, he admits, is incomplete. Whitman describes a child coming to him and asking him what is the grass. He has no real answer, meaning that he cannot fully describe the democratic self to those that do not inherently understand it. Whitman can only tell the child that he sees the democratic self in young men and old women, meaning that he sees it in all people. Whitman then takes the metaphor one step farther, telling the child that even the grass that has died and has gone back to the earth is a part of the whole. “Song of Myself” balances the themes of individuality and collectivity as two important ingredients for the democratic experiment of America. This is Whitman’s political argument.
Whitman breaks up…