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Featured Poem: from Song for Myself by Walt Whitman

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 11th March 2019

The Reader's Learning and Quality Leader, Amanda Boston, shares her thoughts on this week's Featured Poem, from Song for Myself by Walt Whitman.

There was a longer than usual silence after we finished reading aloud this wonderful Whitman poem: as though we were struggling to “permit” ourselves “to speak at every hazard” without quite knowing what those hazards might be. I know I was really struggling to know where to start. So, we went for an immediate second reading, in a different “tongue” as someone pointed out. Indeed it’s very much a poem that demands to be listened to with care – those fabulous alliterative rhythmic lines: 'Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same.'

Settling then with the opening stanza:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good as belongs to you.

I'm wondering what might prompt such behaviour and whether it meant singing about ourselves or to ourselves and indeed what was the relationship between the 'I' and the 'you'?

It reminded one reader in the group of a recent, unsuccessful, job interview. She had been too reticent about highlighting her own achievements and, lacking confidence in her own ability, her potential employers had assumed the same. It feels hard to celebrate ourselves sometimes. There is so much to ponder in this rich poem.

Afterwards I found myself keep returning to the final line:

Nature without check with original energy. 

I felt sucked into that pause after check – both a stop and a release? Is that what loafing can be like? I’m determined to attempt to 'lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass', in the hope that it might energise me anew.

from Song of Myself

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad,  I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

by Walt Whitman

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to a story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

If you can’t find a group in your local community, why not help us bring Shared Reading to your area by becoming a volunteer?

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