The Journey Through Queerness in Song of Myself

Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself examines themes of identity and nature. I was compelled to analyze section 46, where Whitman details a “perpetual journey” (p 48), because the meaning of his travels are deeper than physical movement through space. In the lines from this section that I focused on, Whitman writes,
“Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself./
It is not far….it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know,
Perhaps it is every where on water and on land.”
The “road” that must be traveled on one’s own could be interpreted as an emotional voyage to find happiness or self-fulfillment. However, I read these lines to be about coming out and the queer experience. Walt Whitman was known for being gay or bisexual due to the implications of his writing and his close friendships with men. With his sexuality in mind, it is fair to read the poem with special attention to sexuality.
The word “you” is repeated five times throughout these five lines, which leads me to believe it is significant to the truth of the poem. Identity is expressed through “you”. The author is telling the readers that they must look inside themselves in order to reach the end of the road. It is something that only they can complete because sexuality is a personal matter. No one can tell you how you feel or who you love. That finish line could anywhere or “every where”, according to Whitman. If the end goal is so broad, what could it be? I interpreted it to be coming out to both yourself and the world, but it could also be seen as the journey of living your life as a queer person.
Another line I found interesting was the fourth line, “Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know,”. Realizing that you are a part of the LGBTQ+ community takes a great deal of time and introspection. Being queer is not a choice, it is who you are, therefore, it is only natural that the journey of queerness has been going on from the time one was born.
Whitman’s depiction of the experience many in the LGBTQ+ community go through as a private journey makes me question if the journey he described could be relatable to every person, or if it is too simple to encompass the experiences of an entire group. On the contrary, his poem could also be broad enough to fit in the lives of any queer person and their journey.

2 thoughts on “The Journey Through Queerness in Song of Myself”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this close reading and the question it poses for Walt Whitman’s poem, I specifically enjoyed the author’s insight as to whether it could be a too vague description of what a queer person’s experience may be as they attempt to go through this journey. Perhaps in an effort to answer the So What question the author can attempt to think about the implications of the tone behind this specific quote of the private journey Whitman endures. How could the tone help add another layer of close reading to how Whitman may view the coming out journey, with the word choice it makes it seems a bit fearful to go on this road alone yet reassuring as it must be done in order to get to know oneself.

  2. Something I find particularly interesting in this passage is the distinct individuality in Whitman’s writing. Whitman uses pronouns “I” and “you” which indicate singularity. Whitman could have just been referring to variance among queer identities, but he could also be writing about a particular queer individual who was unable to find belonging in a community. However, lack of community is consistent throughout Song of Myself, as Whitman finds freedom through abandoning oppressive, societal structures and embracing an individualized life in nature.

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