from Song of Myself, 33
I understand the large hearts of heroes,
The courage of present times and all times,
How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of
the steam-ship, and Death chasing it up and down the
How he knuckled tight and gave not back an inch, and was
faithful of days and faithful of nights,
And chalk’d in large letters on a board, Be of good cheer, we
will not desert you;
How he follow’d with them and tack’d with them three days
and would not give it up,
How he saved the drifting company at last,
How the lank loose-gown’d women look’d when boated from
the side of their prepared graves,
How the silent old-faced infants and the lifted sick, and the
sharp-lipp’d unshaved men;
All this I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes mine,
I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there.°
The disdain and calmness of martyrs,
The mother of old, condemn’d for a witch, burnt with dry
wood, her children gazing on,
The hounded slave that flags in the race, leans by the fence,
blowing, cover’d with sweat,
The twinges that sting like needles his legs and neck, the
murderous buckshot and the bullets,
All these I feel or am.
I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs,
Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the
I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs,° thinn’d with the
ooze of my skin,
I fall on the weeds and stones,
The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close,
Taunt my dizzy ears and beat me violently over the head with
Agonies are one of my changes of garments,
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself
become the wounded person,
My hurts turn livid upon me as I lean on a cane and observe.
I am the mash’d fireman with breast-bone broken,
Tumbling walls buried me in their debris,
Heat and smoke I inspired,° I heard the yelling shouts of my
I heard the distant click of their picks and shovels,
They have clear’d the beams away, they tenderly lift me forth.
I lie in the night air in my red shirt, the pervading hush is for
Painless after all I lie exhausted but not so unhappy,
White and beautiful are the faces around me, the heads are
bared of their fire-caps,
The kneeling crowd fades with the light of the torches.
Distant and dead resuscitate,
They show as the dial or move as the hands of me, I am the
I am an old artillerist, I tell of my fort’s bombardment,
I am there again.
Again the long roll of the drummers,
Again the attacking cannon, mortars,
Again to my listening ears the cannon responsive.
I take part, I see and hear the whole,
The cries, curses, roar, the plaudits for well-aim’d shots,
The ambulanza° slowly passing trailing its red drip,
Workmen searching after damages, making indispensable
The fall of grenades through the rent roof, the fan-shaped
The whizz of limbs, heads, stone, wood, iron, high in the air.
Again gurgles the mouth of my dying general, he furiously
waves with his hand,
He gasps through the clot Mind not me—mind—the
from Song of Myself, 33
1. How did you respond to Whitman’s catalog of heroic individuals? Which details packed the strongest emotional punch?
2. Look back at your reading notes. What words and phrases indicate Whitman’s empathy with heroic people? What images of sight and sound help us feel we also are there?
3. At what moments does the speaker restate the point that “I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there”? What is the effect of these restatements?
4. How would you describe the speaker’s tone? What are his feelings for these heroes?
5. Notice the way Whitman alternates between groups of very long lines and groups of very short lines. What is the reason for each short line? How would you use your voice in reading each short line aloud?
6. What do the heroes Whitman describes suggest about the poet’s concept of heroism?
7. Whitman empathizes with people by using the pronoun I. How does his use of the first-person point of view affect you as you read this poem?
8. If you could add a contemporary hero to this poem, whom would you choose, and why?
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