Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"I Sing the Body Electric," by Walt Whitman

-Brian Hanley

“I Sing the Body Electric,” is a poem written by Walt Whitman. The poem is a celebration of the human body. It breaks away from the Christian notion of dualism where the body and soul are separate and the body is the source of corruption for the mind. In his work Whitman celebrates the very essence of bodily flesh and declares its beauty. This poem is a response to those who doubt the body. In the second section of the poem Whitman claims that the human body, female and male, is perfect. He expresses his sensual desire for the human body in this section. “I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child, Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with the wrestlers, march in line with the firemen.” Whitman in his poem is able to find a link between the body politic and the erotic body; “the man’s body is sacred and the woman’s body is sacred,” which means all bodies, everyone, is sacred, even the “dull-faced immigrants [who] just landed on the wharf.” Everyone has a place in the great democratic scheme.
Whitman’s poem is a justification for his own bodily yearnings. In his poem his does not overcome his sexual appetites but he legitimatizes them. Whitman says the body is electric and filled with energies and desires and they are a current of emotion and humanity that make up the body of the soul and the soul of the body, making them one.
Walt Whitman is exclaiming the harmony and perfection of the oneness of body and soul. The ending or climax of the poem is a listing of the wonders of the body, moving from top to bottom, head to toe and then inside and how they work. At the end he says the body and soul are one, or the body is soul actually.

Walt Whitman: I Sing the Body Electric, 1855

Walt Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric" from Leaves of Grass
Verses 7 & 8


A man's body at auction,

(For before the war I often go to the slave-mart and watch the sale,)

I help the auctioneer, the sloven does not half know his business. Gentlemen look on this wonder,

Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it, For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one

animal or plant, For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll'd.

In this head the all-baffling brain,

In it and below it the makings of heroes.

Examine these limbs, red, black, or white, they are cunning in

tendon and nerve, They shall be stript that you may see them.

Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,

Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not

flabby, good-sized arms and legs, And wonders within there yet.

Within there runs blood,

The same old blood ! the same red-running blood! There swells and jets a heart, there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations,

(Do you think they are not there because they are not express'd in parlors and lecture-rooms?)

This is not only one man, this the father of those who shall be

fathers in their turns, In him the start of populous states and rich republics, Of him countless immortal lives with countless embodiments and


How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries?

(Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace back through the centuries ?)


A woman's body at auction,

She too is not only herself, she is the teeming mother of mothers, She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers.

Have you ever loved the body of a woman?

Have you ever loved the body of a man ?

Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all nations and times all over the earth ?

If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred, And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of manhood untainted,

And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is more beautiful than the most beautiful face.

Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the

fool that corrupted her own live body? For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.