Poem of the Week: Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

I Saw in Louisiana A Live-Oak Growing

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.

Context

“I Saw in Louisiana Live-Oak Growing” was first published in the poetry collection Leaves of Grass in 1855, although Whitman revised and rereleased the collection multiple times up until his death. The collection is a series of loosely connected poems about Whitman’s philosophical views and the sensual pleasures of the physical world. Nature, and humans’ place within it, influenced many of his poems. During the time of its release, critics scorned Leaves of Grass as being immoral and lustful.

Analysis

Like most of Walt Whitman’s poems, “I Saw in Louisiana Live-Oak Growing” is written in free verse and lacks any formal meter. Sexuality is a major theme throughout the poem, with the speaker using the oak twig as a symbol to express his desires. Personification is also used to further explain the speaker’s desires. The speaker refers to the tree as lusty and joyous on multiple occasions, a comparison to himself. Toward the end of the poem, the tree is compared to the speaker once again to show his desires. He believes, unlike the tree, he couldn’t be happy in life without friendship and love.