Thursday, December 21, 2023

Poem 'Animals' by WALT WHITMAN [From ‘Song of Myself ’ in Leaves of Grass] Summary Q&A Solved and Explained


In the poem ‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman, the poet admires animals for their simplicity and honesty. He wishes to turn into an animal and live with them. The poem highlights the virtues of animals and how humans can learn from them. The most important theme of the poem is not to admire how good animals are, but to compare humans with them in order to focus on the flaws of their nature. The poet believes that probably a very long time ago, humans possessed all the qualities such as calmness, the lack of greed and the ability to stay happy, but they have now lost them. So in this poem, Walt Whitman has given a pedagogic point before human beings.

Thinking About the Poem

1. Notice the use of the word ‘turn’ in the first line, “I think I could turn and live with animals…”. What is the poet turning from?

In the first line of "Animals," Whitman's "turn" could signify escape from various burdens: the anxieties of human life, societal pressures, a sense of alienation, or a lost connection with nature's simplicity. It's a multifaceted yearning for what animals embody - peace, contentment, and oneness with the earth.

2. Mention three things that humans do and animals don’t.

Whitman's "Animals" highlights three human burdens absent in their world: 1) self-inflicted woes like "whining about condition" and "weeping for sins," 2) societal baggage of "duty to God" and obsession with "owning things," and 3) existential angst like "dissatisfaction" and "mania of owning things." The poem paints animals as vessels of peace, content in their simple, unburdened existence. 

3. Do humans kneel to other humans who lived thousands of years ago? Discuss this in groups.

It is a cultural and religious tradition that humans worship their ancestors and pray by kneeling in front of their portraits. They hold religious sermons and ceremonies in their memory as a sign of respect and reverence. 

4. What are the ‘tokens’ that the poet says he may have dropped long ago, and which the animals have kept for him? Discuss this in class. (Hint: Whitman belongs to the Romantic tradition that includes Rousseau and Wordsworth, which holds that civilisation has made humans false to their own true nature. What could be the basic aspects of our nature as living beings that humans choose to ignore or deny?)

In the poem ‘Animals’ by Walt Whitman, the poet mentions that animals bring him “tokens of myself” and “evince them plainly in their possession”. The tokens mentioned in the poem represent the true nature of humans. These tokens of virtue include contentment, honesty, innocence, kindness, joy, satisfaction, and sharing. Humans developed vices such as greed, selfishness, the desire to possess everything, and other vices.

Whitman’s poem ‘Animals’ is a part of the Romantic tradition that includes Rousseau and Wordsworth. This tradition holds that civilization has made humans false to their own true nature. The basic aspects of our nature as living beings that humans choose to ignore or deny are our connection to nature, our animal instincts, and our emotions. Humans have become so engrossed in their materialistic pursuits that they have lost touch with their true selves. They have forgotten how to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of nature. They have become slaves to their desires and have lost their sense of empathy and compassion.

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