Though it is difficult to summarize all ideas that Whitman presents the reader in “Song of Myself,” there are main ideas that link together under a few unifying themes. Whitman discusses the important idea of the universality of all things, believing that there are similarities and connections between all things on Earth, both living and dead. In the same vain, he believes that true learning comes from interaction with humans and nature. He also presents the idea that most realities are subjective and change depending on context. These main ideas emerge through a long series of strongly imagery-laden musings, wishes, and stories.
Whitman suggests the idea of a universality of all things in a couple of important ways. First, he suggests that all humans are not only equal but connected in some way or another: “And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers.” Here suggests that all people are equal, but he also brings in an even larger component of universality with the idea that not even time separates this connectedness. Through imagery and strong commands, he is able to convey the idea that to learn about this universality, one must experience it firsthand: “You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the specters in books.” To express the subjectivity of reality, Whitman first challenges the notion that what one knows is any real truth: “A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.” Though one may experience “grass” every day, they truly know no more about its existence than a child. He further supports the idea of changing realities with the notion of different forms of the “self.” One self is lost in the dramas of the day, one looks on “both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it,” and one is the purest form of the soul.
I think this piece by Walt Whitman is especially important in the disconnected state of the world today. People are quite separated from one another and no longer in touch with the idea of a universality of humans and nature. Additionally, too much importance is placed on learning from “experts” rather than gathering information through one’s own experiences. The piece is timeless as it carries information relevant to all ages and periods, but it is particularly poignant today when much of what he suggests as the basis for life is lacking in the lives of both leaders and followers today. He succeeds with his attempt to remind us of the important things in life and to constantly keep perspective.