A Song of Myself: Song 24
“Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!
Whoever degrades another degrades me,
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me”.
Whitman draws on many spiritual ideas throughout his “Song of Myself”, particularly when referencing the self and the various connections people have with the self, and the self has with everything else. He begins song 24 with his own name, which not only reinforces the overall meaning of the poem, but also relates to how his poem was previously named after him in a past edition. Similarly, this also relates to the present title of his poem: “Song of Myself”, which indicates that his poem will be about the self: physically, spiritually and metaphorically; before it’s even read.
Whitman uses the couplet “unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” to make the reader understand that Whitman isn’t explicitly speaking about doors, but about people and their bodies. Through these lines Whitman explores the idea of freedom of the body and mind; and uses the metaphor of the door to explain that people have a choice in life, where he has chosen to completely detach- therefore, detaching the door completely off of its hinges. The use of the imperatives at the beginning of each line reinforces Whitman’s passion within this couplet and the whole poem; furthermore, it helps capture the attention of the readers (or listeners) which indicates that this poem was written not only to be read but also to be listened to. Much of the poem is written using speech-like language, and punctuation which sounds like it should be spoken throughout; but this couplet in particular makes the poem seem much more like a dramatic delivery and truly seems to embody his passion for his beliefs.
The contrast between the couplet and the following line: “Whoever degrades another degrades me” can be distinctly heard when listened to, however, it is also evident when reading that Whitman was making a statement with his couplet and then reverts back to continuing with his speech. The use of the verb ‘degrades’ is shown to be important through the repetition within that one line. This is interesting because Whitman is speaking about how he considers himself as a whole, however, if another person is ‘degraded’ he is too; this indicates that he views himself as a whole in the terms of everyone is one. This line can also act as a summary for the whole of Whitman’s poem, since “Song of Myself” describes Whitman’s connection (spiritually and physically) between himself and everything around him. This poem also introduces a sense of clarity as to who Whitman is, yet he still seems unable to fully describe what he thinks, using natural imagery to present his ideas. This idea contradicts Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” which claims that it’s “dreary – to be – Somebody!”. However, it can also be questioned that these two poems are similar in the way that Whitman also doesn’t specify who he is, he just claims that the self is everything and everyone.
Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself (1892 Version)”. Poetry Foundation. N.D. Web. 07 September 2016.
Dickinson, Emily. “I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)”. Poets. N.D. Web. 07 September 2016. <https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/im-nobody-who-are-you-260>