54 – Walt Whitman

The past and present wilt–I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

I know I’ve heard of Walt Whitman before.  I just can’t think of where.  Hm…

What drew me to this poem was the way it looks.  He says something and then has something in parenthesis.  For anyone who’s read and enjoyed John Gardner’s Grendel, this would be something you’d notice as well.

I think he’s writing this poem in the in light of some event  that caused him to think about death.  Perhaps an accident or ailment that caused him to question whether or not he would survive.  It’s interesting that the past and present is wilting since he has been filled.  I would think that if you fill something it’d be happy instead of dying.  The listener up there he speaks to I’m assuming is God, but he has no intent of dying yet because he is only speaking in passing (“I can only stay a minute longer”).  After he realizes he will live roadrunr.jpg he looks to those around him and analyzes their rush.  They’re in such a hurry to get finished with their chores and get to supper and get on with their lives, when will they pay attention to him?  When will they walk and speak with him?  Will they have the opportunity to slow down and pay attention to him before he’s gone?

Whitman is telling us that we need to take time to appreciate those around us.  We’re not sure how long they’ll be here.



  1. redhead4eva292 said,

    January 28, 2008 at 12:22 am

    this poem resonates a lot with me because one of my biggest fears is someone i love dying and me never getting to say goodbye/i love you to them. haha maybe it sounds weird and corny, but i think about it from time to time and it freaks me out. I think that through his “near-death” experience, Whitman has gained a lot of knowledge and perspective about life and death, maybe even compassion, but im not totally sure about that. what i do know is that he sounds like he needs an other to be with before he dies, because he realizes how fleeting life is.

  2. hwood295 said,

    January 28, 2008 at 1:30 am

    i saw this poem in the same light, and thought about how busy lives can get. you get so busy with the every day life, you sometimes forget to notice the important things, to take a minute and let it all soak in, because you never know what will happen

    If tomorrow never comes
    Will she know how much I loved her
    Did I try in every way to show her every day
    That shes my only one
    And if my time on earth were through
    And she must face the world without me
    Is the love I gave her in the past
    Gonna be enough to last
    If tomorrow never comes
    cause Ive lost loved ones in my life
    Who never knew how much I loved them
    Now I live with the regret
    That my true feelings for them never were revealed
    So I made a promise to myself
    To say each day how much she means to me
    And avoid that circumstance
    Where theres no second chance to tell her how I feel

    (its a song..it kinda relates)

  3. mr english said,

    February 3, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    okay, you two sappy souls–go tell them you love them now and stop the gushygushy.
    poetry hater: i like the technique connection with grendel. it does work similarly–we’re inside the mind of both, and sometimes we go inside the inside the mind…a metathought about a thought. i wonder if speaker/whitman IS god, in his mind, sometimes. who else–what other personification/persona–could the speaker be in this poem? the grass?

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