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Walt Whitman's Song of Myself Discussion Questions

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Walt Whitman's ''Song of Myself'' is one of his most famous poems, offering so much for students to think about. This lesson offers discussion questions you can use to help organize students' comprehension of this important work.

Discussing ''Song of Myself''

Are your students in the middle of a study of Walt Whitman's poetry? This can be a really important learning opportunity. In studying Whitman, students will learn so much about the structure of poetry, the history of poetry in America, and the development of identity through literary form.

One of Whitman's most famous, but also complicated, works is his epic ''Song of Myself.'' Written in some ways as autobiography and in other ways as a sermon or literary meditation on life, ''Song of Myself'' is intricate and lovely. Students might struggle to understand just what this poem is about, however, and its complexity can make it difficult to find ways to structure a strong discussion about the poem.

The purpose of the discussion questions in this lesson is to provide some scaffolding that will help students help each other make sense of Whitman's work. The questions offered here do not have definitive right answers; instead, they give students entry points that they can build on while drawing on evidence from the text.

Questions About Content

The questions in this section will help your students make sense of the manifest meaning of the poem in discussion with one another.

  • What questions do you think Whitman is trying to answer or at least deal with throughout ''Song of Myself?'' Why are these questions so important to him?
  • What do you make of grass as a symbol throughout the ''Song of Myself?'' What does grass mean to Whitman, and how does he use this symbol?
  • What are some of the ways Whitman references and comments on the Civil War in ''Song of Myself?''
  • What do you think of the opening lines of ''Song of Myself?'' What kind of person do you think Whitman was, based on these opening lines?
  • Talk about the story of the twenty-ninth bather. What does she seem to represent, and why is she so important to Whitman?
  • What does Whitman say about language, poetry, and conversation over the course of this poem? What is your own opinion of Whitman's relationship to these key themes?
  • Which part of ''Song of Myself'' do you feel the most personally drawn to or moved by, and why?

Questions About Form and Language

In this section, you will find discussion questions that will help students analyze and admire Whitman's mastery of poetic language and form.

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