Walt Whitman as a poet of democracy

Question: Discuss Walt Whitman as a poet of democracy.


Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is considered to be one of the greatest poets of democracy not only in American literature but also in world literature as well. He was a born democrat as he believed in the inherent dignity and equality of all men and women. His conception of democracy is based on this belief. Here Whitman is illustrated as a poet of democracy by pointing out the references of his poems.

Declaration of the ultimate victory of democracy

In the poems “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! My Captain”, Whitman has announced the ultimate victory of democracy. In both of these poems, he has asserted that after a struggle of the bloody civil war the ship or train of democracy has reached its shore or station but the criminals could not tolerate this and they think that they will destroy the democracy from the history of the nation but it has been even more stable witnessed by the presence of the mourners on the shores or stations after stations. It is in the poet’s tongue:

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

Dealing with ideal and universal democracy

It appears from a study of Whitman’s poetry that his democracy is ideal and universal. He personifies the spirit of universal brotherhood. According to a critic of Whitman, “Men of every class then are interesting to Whitman”. In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, the poet says-

“It avails not time nor space- distance avails not

I am with you, you men and women of a generation,

Or every so many generation hence”

From the above-quoted lines, we can form an idea of the democracy of Whitman that all men are equal and that is ideal. As a manifestation of his democratic ideal, the poet celebrates the average American through himself. He uses the “I” as an all-embracing concept.

Presence of all walk of people

Like the kingdom of heaven, the democracy of Whitman is open irrespective of any caste, color, or creed. That is why Whitman refuses to compose poems for the parts. The basic ideas of democracy are the liberty of the individual, fraternity, equality, and brotherhood. All these are based on the basic dignity of man. The poet says-

“And that all men ever born are also my brothers

and the women my sisters and lovers”

Dignity and nobility of every common man

As it is known to the people of the world that Abraham Lincoln who is the ideal political leader of Whitman has fought against the injustice of the slavery system. The long civil war (1861-1865) has been the prime subject matter of Whitman’s poetry and the murder of his beloved leader is illustrated by him in his poems. This depiction symbolically represents the democratic note of dignity and nobility of every common man.

Democracy in every object of nature

No other poet is as genius as Whitman in respect of the democratic nature of the natural world. The poet celebrates that the mystic democratic conception of nature offers us to be the preserver of human rights and dignity at our level best. He uses lilacs as the symbol of love for the ideal political reader and the hermit thrush as a mourner that is why he is called the poet of democracy who has an exceptional point of view on democracy.

Bible of democracy

Whitman is considered to be the composer of the Bible of democracy. “Leaves of Grass” is his most famous political work. It is regarded as the Bible of democracy. Besides, almost all of the poems of Whitman directly or indirectly deal with politics and democracy.


But, for all these, we should not take Whitman as a mere idealist in democracy. His democracy is practical. The way he holds the idea of democracy is different from other thinker’s ideas about it. His democracy is ideal, universal, and pantheistic but practical at the same time.

Click here: For notes of poetry

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
Articles: 380

One comment

  1. I really appreciate your help honourable sir 💝💝💝.

    I am from Gaibandha Govt College. Masters session 2020-21. Please keep me in your prayers.

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