Ecocritical Analysis of For You O Democracy

I am analyzing Walt Whitman’s poem “For You O Democracy” through an ecofeminist perspective. In the poem there are many water images because Whitman plants companionship along rivers and the shores of America’s great lakes.  The water images combined with Whitman’s use of “I” create, an image of prenatal thought or general planning of what he believes Democracy should create. Democracy must represent the ideal form of government according to Whitman. He believes that democracy will make the “continent indissoluble” and give birth to the “most splendid race the sun ever shone upon”. Democracy also represents a mother figure because it creates a life long love between comrades that is as “thick as trees”. Whitman is idealistic about nature’s ability to bring together men and women of different races. Whitman must believe that since nature is like a mother it is capable of accomplishing the task of uniting a nation. Some cities are valued greater than other so it will be difficult to create “inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks”. Whitman believes freedom is important in democracy. He wants his comrades to wander the divine “magnetic lands” and all over America’s rivers, lakes, and prairies. Whitman is so excited by the thought of an indissoluble nation that he is literally singing his joy. Whitman’s poem encompasses the belief in “a kind of women’s spirituality in female biology and acculturation that is ‘comprised of the truths of naturalism and the holistic proclivities of women’ (25) said by Charlene Spretnak quoted in Ecocriticism. Whitman believes in a marriage between nature and democracy of which he will serve. Whitman focuses too much on the mystical connection with nature than what women are actually capable of. He is unrealistic in regards to about nature’s ability to inspire camaraderie. Not everyone finds an inherent value in nature.

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. “Death-Bed”CH./Art: Excerpts p. 116-119, 148-150, 258-264, 275-282, 284-93, 459-462. Pub. Random House 2001


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by al002 on October 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I found your ecofeminism critique of Walt Whitman’s For You O Democracy poem very interesting especially the point you made about the “marriage between nature and democracy.” Whitman seems to argue that women’s maternal instinct is represented by nature with the ability to supply offspring with nutrients to mature. This parallels the resources nature supplies man to mature into a democracy. The male figure of the marriage would be democracy, with men being associated with culture; the symbiotic relationship would support Whitman’s belief of the two being connected. I also agree with your statement about Whitman focusing on the “mystical connection with nature than what women are actually capable of” because women did not have the power and authority elements found in nature.

  2. Posted by yribaf on October 19, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    I agree with your argument regarding Whitman and his poem. Whitman is very idealistic about nature’s ability to unite people from different societies because nature itself has never united people from different societies. Nature gives us sustenance, but beyond that, different landscapes have been associated with slavery and oppression more than a uniting of humanity. Women are capable of nurturing their children, just like the earth, but women also partake in the dividing of people. Women can be just as harsh and cruel as men. Whitman is very unrealistic, even romanticizing in many ways. What really matters when it comes to uniting a people are the ideas and belief systems both parties view the world through. Not every society sees an inherent value in nature, as you have said, and not every society will view nature as a common ground to unite upon. One society may see a limited amount of resources to live off of and thus turn on the other society.

  3. i find your argument of For You O Democracy by Whitman through an ecofeminist lens very interesting. Whitman states he will “plant companionship as thick as trees” (Whitman, 148). I like his use of nature to attempt to unite the human races. Equating companionship to trees makes the reader value nature and see it analogous to positive aspects of humanity. The way I see this poem as ecofeminist is the “logic of domination” by way of wielding nature to Whitman’s personal agenda. His use of the word “comrades” (Whitman, 148-149) to describe humans is positive. He did not choose to use the word “man, or men” instead opting to group males and females into an equal category. I admit he is idealistic, but I would rather read something more idealistic because the reader will aim higher rather than accepting the status of reality and restrictions and not even attempting a change.

  4. Posted by kwalley on October 20, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I found your ecofeminist analysis of Whitman very interesting. While reading the poem I was very surprised to see Whitman referring to both democracy and nature as a feminine entity. In all other literature I have read, democracy has always been referred to as a powerful masculine thing. Your analysis of how Whitman presents democracy as a mother-like figure with the ability to create a life long love between comrades, essentially uniting very different people, is insightful and I believe correct. Also, I found it peculiar that Whitman believes in a marriage between nature and democracy but does not portray either of these as masculine in his poetry.

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