Why Are Whitman’s Poems Full of Freedom and Romance?

by Amy
Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman, often hailed as the quintessential American poet, infused his works with themes of freedom and romance, creating a unique voice that resonated deeply with readers. His poetry, notably “Leaves of Grass,” embodies a celebration of individuality, democracy, nature, and the human spirit. This article explores the reasons behind the pervasive presence of freedom and romance in Whitman’s poems.

Whitman’s Historical and Cultural Context

To understand why Whitman’s poetry is imbued with freedom and romance, it’s essential to consider the historical and cultural context in which he wrote. Born in 1819, Whitman lived through a transformative period in American history. The United States was expanding westward, grappling with issues of slavery, and experiencing rapid industrialization. The ideals of democracy and individualism were gaining prominence, influencing Whitman’s worldview and his literary output.

The Influence of Transcendentalism

Whitman was heavily influenced by the Transcendentalist movement, particularly the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Transcendentalism emphasized the inherent goodness of people and nature, the importance of individual intuition, and the need for personal and societal transformation. This philosophical framework is evident in Whitman’s celebration of the self and his belief in the interconnectedness of all beings.

Celebration of Individuality and Democracy

One of the most prominent themes in Whitman’s poetry is the celebration of individuality. In “Song of Myself,” Whitman famously declares, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” highlighting the importance of self-expression and personal freedom. This emphasis on the individual aligns with the democratic ideals that were central to Whitman’s vision of America. He believed that each person had inherent worth and that democracy was the means through which individuals could achieve their full potential.

Whitman’s democratic ideals are also evident in his inclusive vision of America. He wrote about people from all walks of life, embracing the diversity of the nation. In “I Hear America Singing,” he celebrates the varied voices of the American people, from mechanics and carpenters to mothers and seamstresses. This inclusive approach underscores his belief in the equality and interconnectedness of all individuals.

Romanticism and the Beauty of Nature

Whitman’s poetry is also deeply romantic, reflecting the influence of the Romantic movement, which emphasized emotion, nature, and the sublime. His poems often evoke a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world. In “Leaves of Grass,” nature is not just a backdrop but a living, breathing entity that is intimately connected to the human experience.

In “Song of the Open Road,” Whitman writes, “Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road, / Healthy, free, the world before me.” This celebration of the journey, both literal and metaphorical, reflects the Romantic ideal of exploration and self-discovery. The open road becomes a symbol of freedom, adventure, and the boundless possibilities of life.

Eroticism and the Human Body

Whitman’s romanticism also extends to his treatment of the human body and eroticism. His poems often celebrate the physicality of the body and the sensual experiences of life. In “I Sing the Body Electric,” he writes, “The love of the body of man or woman balks account—the body itself balks account.” This unabashed celebration of the body was groundbreaking for its time and reflects Whitman’s belief in the sanctity of all aspects of the human experience.

Whitman’s eroticism is not just about physical desire but also about the deeper connection between individuals. His poems often explore themes of love and intimacy, transcending conventional boundaries and societal norms. In “Calamus,” a section of “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman writes about male-male love with a tenderness and openness that was revolutionary for the 19th century.

The Fusion of Freedom and Romance

Whitman’s ability to fuse freedom and romance in his poetry is perhaps best exemplified in his concept of the “self.” For Whitman, the self is not a static entity but a dynamic, ever-evolving presence that is shaped by its interactions with the world. This fluidity allows for a sense of freedom and possibility that is central to his poetic vision.

In “Song of Myself,” Whitman writes, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” This acknowledgment of the complexity and multiplicity of the self reflects his belief in the boundless potential of human beings. It is this belief that underpins the sense of freedom and romance in his poetry, as he invites readers to embrace their own contradictions and to explore the myriad possibilities of life.

Political and Social Commentary

Whitman’s poetry is also deeply political, reflecting his commitment to social justice and equality. His poems often serve as a critique of the societal norms and injustices of his time. In “Leaves of Grass,” he addresses issues such as slavery, women’s rights, and the exploitation of workers, using his poetry as a platform for advocating for change.

In “I Sing the Body Electric,” Whitman writes, “The man’s body is sacred and the woman’s body is sacred, / No matter who it is, it is sacred.” This egalitarian view of the human body challenges the societal norms of his time and underscores his belief in the inherent dignity of all individuals. His poetry becomes a means of envisioning a more just and equitable society, one in which freedom and romance are not just personal experiences but collective aspirations.

Innovative Poetic Form

Whitman’s innovative use of poetic form also contributes to the sense of freedom and romance in his work. He is often credited with pioneering free verse, a form that eschews traditional meter and rhyme schemes in favor of a more natural and fluid expression. This liberated form allows Whitman to explore his themes without the constraints of conventional poetic structures.

In “Song of Myself,” the free verse form mirrors the expansive and inclusive nature of Whitman’s vision. The poem’s sprawling lines and rhythms evoke the boundless possibilities of life and the interconnectedness of all beings. This formal innovation reinforces the themes of freedom and romance, as Whitman’s poetry becomes a space for exploration and discovery.

Legacy and Influence

Whitman’s legacy as a poet of freedom and romance continues to resonate with readers and writers today. His innovative style and themes have influenced countless poets and writers, from the Beat Generation to contemporary poets. His celebration of individuality, democracy, and the human spirit remains a powerful and enduring vision.

In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Whitman reflects on the continuity of human experience, writing, “What is it then between us? / What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?” This sense of connection across time and space speaks to the timelessness of his vision and the enduring relevance of his work.


Walt Whitman’s poems are full of freedom and romance because they reflect his deep commitment to individuality, democracy, and the human spirit. Influenced by Transcendentalism and Romanticism, Whitman’s poetry celebrates the self, the natural world, and the physicality of the human body. His innovative use of free verse allows for a fluid and expansive expression of his themes, creating a poetic vision that is both deeply personal and universally resonant.

Through his celebration of the open road, the human body, and the interconnectedness of all beings, Whitman invites readers to embrace their own potential and to explore the boundless possibilities of life. His poetry serves as a powerful reminder of the enduring values of freedom, love, and the pursuit of a more just and equitable society.

Related Articles


Discover the soulful universe of PoemsHubs, where words dance with emotions. Immerse yourself in a collection of evocative verses, diverse perspectives, and the beauty of poetic expression. Join us in celebrating the artistry of words and the emotions they unfold.

Copyright © 2023 poemshubs.com