Question 1: A Song of the Rolling Earth

In “A Song of the Rolling Earth,” Walt Whitman discusses the connection between human beings and nature.  Whitman characterizes the titular “song” as a grouping of words, and these words are “in the air, they are in you” (275).  Furthermore, Whitman states, “Human bodies are words, myriads of words” (275).  Because Whitman also says, “Air, soil, water, fire – those are words” (275), he creates a clear connection between human beings and their natural environment.  He also says, “human bodies are words” (275), thereby characterizing the human body as belonging to nature, a view somewhat similar to Emerson’s.  However, Whitman also creates a dichotomy between humans and nature.  He personifies nature as a perfect maternal figure, one who “does not argue, / Is not pathetic, has no arrangements, / Does not scream, haste, persuade, threaten, promise” (277).  Instead, he describes nature as “the eloquent dumb great mother” (277).  With this characterization, Whitman imbues nature with only the positive aspects of humanity, while separating negative traits from nature.  Whitman also falls into the tradition of personifying nature as female, a conventional technique that is still effective in the poem due to Whitman’s imbuing of nature with other human traits than femininity.

Whitman’s characterization of humans becomes more complex with the later verses.  He states that “the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete, / The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who remains jagged and broken” (280).  Whereas previously Whitman had stated that humans are directly affected by nature, he now states that the influence of nature on humans can only go so far.  The way nature is perceived depends entirely on the individual person, and nature becomes a reflection of oneself just as oneself is a reflection of one’s environment.  His repetition of the words “I swear” at the start of several verses indicates the immediacy with which the speaker addresses the reader, as well as indicating a spiritual understanding of nature the speaker wishes to pass on to the reader.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. “Death-Bed” Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 116-119, 148-150, 258-264, 27-5-282, 284-293, 459-462. pub. Random House 2001

  2. When I was reading about how perception effects our feelings about nature in A Song of the Rolling Earth, I could not help but think of a Cymbalta commercial ( showing people in nature who can’t enjoy it because of their depression (that is.. until they start taking their antidepressants! Then they love nature!). As obnoxious as this example is, I believe in what Whitman was stating in his poem because attitude is everything when it comes to enjoying life, people, and even nature. To me, his use of the words “I swear” seem to indicate some type of persuasive power, as though he is all knowing and trying to educate his reader.

  3. This seems to relate back to the argument of no two persons being able to view the rainbow the same exact way. As much as our view is subjective, so is our opinion of nature. Therefore, the effect it has on us is very individualized. It reinforces a connection with nature because it affords everyone a different relationship with nature which suits their personality and experiences. Nature embraces each person as they are, creating a safe bond and associating a positive bond.

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