I Sing the Body Electric, Walt Whitman: Summary & Analysis

"I Sing the Body Electric" by Walt Whitman is a celebration of the human body in all its forms. It emphasizes the interconnectedness of the body and the soul, suggesting that the body is an integral part of the soul's expression. Whitman praises the beauty and diversity of both male and female bodies, highlighting their various qualities and capabilities. The poem also explores themes of love, sensuality, and the interconnectedness of all humans. Ultimately, it conveys a message of acceptance and reverence for the human body, viewing it as a sacred and vital aspect of the human experience.

Table of Contents
Poem Original Text


I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?


The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account,
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.

The expression of the face balks account,
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.

The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the folds of their dress, their style as we pass in the street, the contour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his saddle,

Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles, and their wives waiting,
The female soothing a child, the farmer’s daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver driving his six horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sun-down after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, count.


I knew a man, a common farmer, the father of five sons,
And in them the fathers of sons, and in them the fathers of sons.

This man was of wonderful vigor, calmness, beauty of person,
The shape of his head, the pale yellow and white of his hair and beard, the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes, the richness and breadth of his manners,
These I used to go and visit him to see, he was wise also,

He was six feet tall, he was over eighty years old, his sons were massive, clean, bearded, tan-faced, handsome,
They and his daughters loved him, all who saw him loved him,
They did not love him by allowance, they loved him with personal love,
He drank water only, the blood show’d like scarlet through the clear-brown skin of his face,

He was a frequent gunner and fisher, he sail’d his boat himself, he had a fine one presented to him by a ship-joiner, he had fowling-pieces presented to him by men that loved him,
When he went with his five sons and many grand-sons to hunt or fish, you would pick him out as the most beautiful and vigorous of the gang,
You would wish long and long to be with him, you would wish to sit by him in the boat that you and he might touch each other.


I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.

There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well,
All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.


This is the female form,
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction,
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor, all falls aside but myself and it,
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, and what was expected of heaven or fear’d of hell, are now consumed,
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it, the response likewise ungovernable,
Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands all diffused, mine too diffused,
Ebb stung by the flow and flow stung by the ebb, love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching,
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice,
Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn,
Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh’d day.

This the nucleus—after the child is born of woman, man is born of woman,
This the bath of birth, this the merge of small and large, and the outlet again.
Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest,
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.

The female contains all qualities and tempers them,
She is in her place and moves with perfect balance,
She is all things duly veil’d, she is both passive and active,
She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as daughters.

As I see my soul reflected in Nature,
As I see through a mist, One with inexpressible completeness, sanity, beauty,
See the bent head and arms folded over the breast, the Female I see.


The male is not less the soul nor more, he too is in his place,
He too is all qualities, he is action and power,
The flush of the known universe is in him,
Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defiance become him well,
The wildest largest passions, bliss that is utmost, sorrow that is utmost become him well, pride is for him,
The full-spread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul,
Knowledge becomes him, he likes it always, he brings every thing to the test of himself, Whatever the survey, whatever the sea and the sail he strikes soundings at last only here,
(Where else does he strike soundings except here?)

The man’s body is sacred and the woman’s body is sacred,
No matter who it is, it is sacred—is it the meanest one in the laborers’ gang?
Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on the wharf?
Each belongs here or anywhere just as much as the well-off, just as much as you,
Each has his or her place in the procession.

(All is a procession,
The universe is a procession with measured and perfect motion.)

Do you know so much yourself that you call the meanest ignorant?
Do you suppose you have a right to a good sight, and he or she has no right to a sight?
Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float, and the soil is on the surface, and water runs and vegetation sprouts,
For you only, and not for him and her?


A man’s body at auction,
(For before the war I often go to the slave-mart and watch the sale,)
I help the auctioneer, the sloven does not half know his business.

Gentlemen look on this wonder,
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it,
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one animal or plant,
For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll’d.

In this head the all-baffling brain,
In it and below it the makings of heroes.
Examine these limbs, red, black, or white, they are cunning in tendon and nerve,

They shall be stript that you may see them.
Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,

Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs,

And wonders within there yet.

Within there runs blood,
The same old blood! the same red-running blood!
There swells and jets a heart, there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations,
(Do you think they are not there because they are not express’d in parlors and lecture-rooms?)

This is not only one man, this the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns,
In him the start of populous states and rich republics,
Of him countless immortal lives with countless embodiments and enjoyments.

How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries?
(Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace back through the centuries?)


A woman’s body at auction,
She too is not only herself, she is the teeming mother of mothers,
She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers.
Have you ever loved the body of a woman?
Have you ever loved the body of a man?
Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all nations and times all over the earth?

If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred,
And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of manhood untainted,
And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is more beautiful than the most beautiful face.

Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool that corrupted her own live body?
For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.


O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you,
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul,)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and that they are my poems,
Man’s, woman’s, child’s, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems,
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,
Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,
Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the
Upper-arm, armpit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,
Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger, finger-joints, finger-nails,
Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,
Ribs, belly, backbone, joints of the backbone,
Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,
Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,
Leg fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under-leg,
Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;
All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body or of any one’s body, male or female,
The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,
The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame,
Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,
Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman,
The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,
The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,
Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,
The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!

Explanation of I Sing the Body Electric

Part 1

In the first part, Whitman begins by declaring his intention to celebrate the human body. He emphasizes the unity between individuals, saying that he is surrounded and embraced by the armies of those he loves, and they won't let him go until he responds to them and charges them with the energy of the soul. Whitman questions whether those who corrupt their own bodies can hide from themselves or from judgment, and he raises questions about the relationship between the body and the soul.

Part 2

This section explores the physicality and beauty of the human body in various forms, both male and female. Whitman describes how a person's expression isn't limited to their face but can also be seen in their limbs, posture, and movements. He appreciates the diversity of human bodies, from infants to adults, laborers to athletes, and even firemen in action. Whitman suggests that observing and connecting with these different bodies brings him joy and satisfaction.

Part 3

Here, Whitman tells the story of a remarkable farmer who represents the ideal of a vigorous and wise man. He praises the man's physical attributes, such as his height and strength, as well as his familial bonds. The man is respected and loved by his children and grandchildren. Whitman admires his vitality, love for nature, and his role as a patriarch. This section highlights the connection between the physical body and the legacy it leaves behind.

Part 4

In this part, Whitman emphasizes that being with people he likes is enough for him. He finds joy in the simple act of being in the company of others, appreciating the physical presence and interaction with them. He describes the pleasure he derives from physical contact, such as a brief embrace, and he equates this connection to swimming in delight.

Part 5

This section focuses on the female body, celebrating its divine qualities and its power to attract and captivate. Whitman suggests that the female form embodies both the physical and spiritual aspects of existence. He also conveys that the female body contains the qualities of all human experiences and balances passivity and activity, creation and nurture.

Part 6

Here, Whitman turns his attention to the male body, highlighting its qualities and the significance of the male soul. He suggests that the male body is equally sacred and encompasses a wide range of emotions and attributes, from pride to passion. Whitman argues that the male body is essential to the continuation of life and the formation of societies.

Part 7

This section imagines a man's body at auction, showcasing its complexity and significance. Whitman asserts that the human body is beyond measure in value, as it represents the culmination of life's evolution. He describes the body's physical attributes, senses, and emotions, emphasizing the sacredness of the human form.

Part 8

Whitman parallels the auction of a woman's body to that of a man's, emphasizing that both are equally sacred and essential for the continuation of humanity. He underscores the universality of human bodies and the beauty of a strong, healthy physique. Whitman criticizes those who harm their own bodies, suggesting that the human body is inherently precious.

Part 9

In the final section, Whitman expresses a deep connection between his own body and the bodies of others. He believes that these bodies are not just physical but are also extensions of the soul. He lists various body parts and attributes, male and female, and emphasizes that they are not just parts of the body but are also integral to his poetry and the human experience.

The poem "I Sing the Body Electric" celebrates the beauty, diversity, and sacredness of the human body, viewing it as an essential and interconnected aspect of the human soul and experience. Whitman's poem explores this theme through a series of vivid and detailed descriptions of the human form in various contexts.

Summary of "I Sing the Body Electric" by Walt Whitman


"I Sing the Body Electric" is a poem written by Walt Whitman, a renowned American journalist, poet, and essayist, first published in 1855 as part of his collection, "Leaves of Grass." Initially met with mixed reviews due to its frank exploration of sexuality and the celebration of the human body, it eventually gained recognition as a masterpiece of American literature. This summary delves into the poem's popularity and its representation of Transcendentalism, highlighting key themes.

Transcendentalism Representation

The poem is a prime example of American Transcendentalism, a philosophical and literary movement emerging in the mid-19th century. It challenges traditional religious and moral views on physical pleasures and sensuality, instead, elevating the human body as a source of divine inspiration. This aligns with the Transcendentalist belief in the inherent goodness of both nature and humanity. Through free verse and a focus on individuality, Whitman emphasizes the power of the individual to transcend societal constraints and connect with the divine, embodying Transcendentalist ideals.

Exploring Key Themes

"I Sing the Body Electric" explores several central themes. It celebrates the human body, rejecting conventional religious and moral frameworks that downplay its importance due to physical pleasures. Whitman highlights the interconnectedness of life with the soul, asserting that "For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you." He suggests that physical intimacy holds a profound spiritual dimension, encouraging readers to embrace their individuality while recognizing their deep connections to others and the natural world.

Let's Talk About It

Now that we've summarized "I Sing the Body Electric" by Walt Whitman, let's engage in discussion. How do you perceive the poem's challenge to traditional views of the body and spirituality? What are your thoughts on the interconnectedness of all living beings as presented in the poem? Share your insights in the comments section below.

Analysis of Literary Devices in "I Sing the Body Electric" by Walt Whitman


Alliteration involves repeating initial consonant sounds in words. In "I Sing the Body Electric," Whitman employs alliteration in line 15, with phrases like "The strong sweet quality he has strike through the cotton and broadcloth," where the /s/ and /h/ sounds create a melodic quality. The same technique is used in line 28 with "masculine muscle" and the /m/ sound.


Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or lines. In the poem, Whitman uses anaphora in lines 13 and 14, beginning with "It is in his…" He repeats this pattern in lines 23 to 28, starting each with "The…" and again in lines 46 to 48, commencing with "To…"


Assonance involves the repetition of vowel sounds in words. Whitman employs assonance effectively in lines like, "It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists," where the sounds of /i/ and /o/ enhance the musical quality of the poem.


Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in a verse. Whitman skillfully uses consonance in lines like, "I knew a man, a common farmer, the father of five sons," where the sounds of /f/, /l/, and /d/ contribute to the poem's musicality. Similarly, he employs consonance in lines such as, "They and his daughters loved him, all who saw him loved him."


Epiphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses or lines. Whitman employs epiphora in the poem with the repeated use of the word "blood" at the end of lines 109 and 110. This repetition adds a musical quality to the verses.


Imagery involves descriptive language that appeals to the senses. Whitman's poem is rich in imagery, with lines like "Of him countless immortal lives with countless embodiments and enjoyments" (line 115) and "She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers" (line 120) painting vivid mental pictures.


Metaphor entails comparing two unlike things. Whitman skillfully uses metaphors in the poem, such as "I sing the body electric" and "They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them." In both cases, Whitman employs metaphors to convey deeper meanings.


Personification involves giving human qualities to non-human entities. In the poem, Whitman personifies the body, exemplified in the opening verse, "I sing the body electric," where the body is portrayed as something worthy of song and celebration.


Repetition entails the repeated use of a word, phrase, or idea for emphasis. "I Sing the Body Electric" employs repetition to underscore specific ideas. For instance, the phrase "the body" is repeated in the first stanza and throughout the poem to emphasize the importance of the human body in life.


Simile is a comparison between two things using "like" or "as." Whitman employs similes in lines like, "And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?" Here, he compares the living to the dead to make a point.


Symbolism involves using symbols to represent abstract ideas. In the poem, various body parts, such as hair, bosoms, hips, and legs, are used symbolically to convey the significance of the human body and physicality in our existence.

Let's Talk About It

Now that we've dissected the literary devices used in "I Sing the Body Electric," what impact do you think these devices have on the poem's overall message and tone? How do they enhance your understanding of Whitman's celebration of the human body? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in "I Sing the Body Electric" by Walt Whitman


Diction refers to the choice and style of language used in a poem. In "I Sing the Body Electric," Whitman employs a formal, adorned, stylish, and verbose poetic diction. This choice of language reflects the complexity and depth of the subject matter. The poem's vocabulary and phrasing create a sense of reverence for the human body and its significance.


Meter pertains to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. "I Sing the Body Electric" is written in free verse, meaning it lacks a consistent metrical pattern. Whitman's deliberate departure from traditional meter allows for a natural and unrestrained flow of words, mirroring the poem's celebration of the unshackled human spirit.

Free Verse

Free verse is a poetic style characterized by the absence of a strict rhyme scheme or meter. This poem is a prime example of free verse, as Whitman liberates his verses from the constraints of traditional rhyme and rhythm. This freedom allows for a spontaneous and organic expression of his ideas.

Poem Type

"I Sing the Body Electric" can be categorized as a long poem, often referred to as a poem of celebration or a song of praise. Whitman uses this extensive format to explore the profound theme of the human body's significance fully. The poem's length mirrors the depth of his admiration for the subject matter.


A stanza is a group of lines in a poem. "I Sing the Body Electric" is divided into 11 sections, each with varying numbers of lines. This structural division allows Whitman to explore different facets of the human body and its connection to the broader universe. Each section provides a unique perspective on the overarching theme.


Tone refers to the attitude or emotional state conveyed by a poem. The tone of "I Sing the Body Electric" is celebratory and reverential. Whitman uses his poetic prowess to praise the human body and its profound connection to nature and the divine. The tone reflects a deep sense of awe and admiration for the subject matter, emphasizing the poem's overall message.

Let's Talk About It

Having examined the poetic devices in "I Sing the Body Electric," how do you think Whitman's choice of diction, free verse, and tone contributes to the poem's overall impact? How does the absence of a strict rhyme scheme and meter affect your reading experience? Share your insights in the comments section below.
Cookie Consent
We serve cookies on this site to analyze traffic, remember your preferences, and optimize your experience.
It seems there is something wrong with your internet connection. Please connect to the internet and start browsing again.
AdBlock Detected!
We have detected that you are using adblocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website, we request you to whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.
Site is Blocked
Sorry! This site is not available in your country.