Walt Whitman, an American poet, essayist and journalist was born in New York on 31 May 1819. Walt Whitman is one of the prominent poets in American literature and is often called the father of free verse.
The poem, ‘Animals’ written by Walt Whitman creates a comparison between human beings and animals. In this poem, the poet stresses on the fact that animals are better than human beings as their love for humans is genuine. They possess qualities like love, respect, contentment and happiness like humans, sometimes better than them. According to the poet, humans are losing empathy due to the rat race, whereas animals still value love and belongingness. They value nature more than us. Humans are too busy to find fault in others, whereas animals are satisfied with their own self. The poet says that humans are suffering because of their dissatisfaction and actions towards fulfilling their selfish motives. So, the poet wishes to turn and live with animals.
It is the souls of animals that are meant to reflect the truth in humanity. In this poem, Whitman compares man to animals. The central idea of this poem is the difference between human beings and animals. In the beginning, both were similar in their innate goodness; the man had lost it over the years. In the race of human civilization, humans have lost their nature. They have become self-centred, jealous, restless, unhappy and always dissatisfied about everything. They grumble and crib about every issue. They cry over their sins and look for ways to please God for their selfish motives. The humans have got into a race among each other in order to earn more luxuries and comfort. They have lost their sound sleep and most of the time unable to enjoy even small joys and happiness.
He says that now humans lack many virtues that animals have. Humans have become a combination of complications, contradictions and confusion. Animals, on the other hand, are peaceful, self-contained, thankful and happy. The poet desires to live among the animals because they do not complain about their conditions like human beings. They do not have the craze of possessing the materialistic things. The animals do not have to bow to another of their kind. They are all equals and remain satisfied. The poet has a deep desire to learn from animals because they do not have any kind of falsehood. The poet is much surprised at their quality.
Explanation line by line
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are
So placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long
In the above lines, the poet says that he thinks he should turn away from the depressing human world and live with animals. According to him, animals are quite calm, peaceful and self-satisfied. He stands and stares at them for long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with
The mania of owning things.
In the above lines, the poet says that animals do not cry and grumble about their miserable conditions as humans do. Their conscience is clear and nor do they lie awake the whole night and weep over their sins as humans do. Animals do not discuss and express their duty toward God. According to the poet, no animal is discontented or is obsessive of a desire to possess more and more things.
Not one kneels to another, nor to this kind that
Loved thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince
them plainly in their possession.
I wonder where they get those tokens,
Did I pass that huge times ago and negligently drop them?
In the above lines, the poet says that no animal bows its head in respect to another of its kind. They don’t even have the ability to show any respect to the ancestors of their race. These are the pretentious attitudes of human beings and not that of animals. Animals do not consider themselves more respectable than others (like human beings), and no animal in this whole world is unhappy over his lot. Animals are straightforward. They bring tokens of their love to the poet. In this way, animals show that they belong to the poet and he accepts them as his own. Animals remind the poet of his original characteristics which animals still retain and show them clearly. The poet wonders how animals still retain them.
Q1. What is the theme of the poem, ‘Animals’?
Answer: The theme of the poem is the superiority of animals’ life over human beings. The poet, Whitman, compares animals with human beings. He finds animals far better than human beings. The poet finds the reasons for human suffering. Human beings are always dissatisfied and unhappy. There is always a selfish motive behind their action, but animals are far away from these things. Animals are selfless. They are never unhappy about their being. So, the poet wants to become an animal and live with this species.
Q2. How is the poem ‘Animals’ a contrast between Humans and Animals?
Ans. Humans are selfish, jealous, restless, unhappy, often cribbing and grumbling creatures. They have forgotten the innate goodness over the years. They have become selfish, and jealous, always showing dissatisfaction over everything. In a race to earn more luxuries and comfort, humans have lost their sound sleep. They have become so unhappy that most of the time they are unable to enjoy even small joys and happiness in life.
Animals are completely different creatures. They are peaceful, self-contained, thankful, selfless and happy creatures. They do not grumble about their lives. Nor do they lie awake at night and cry over their sins. They don’t have the madness of owning things or bow down before others. They are the happiest species on Earth and they indeed bring out the good qualities like love, respect, contentment and happiness, which the humans have lost long ago.
Q3. What is the difference between Animals and Humans regarding their attitude to their condition, sins and God?
Answer: Human beings cry about their condition. They lie awake at night in the dark and weep for their sins. They make the poet sick by discussing their duty about God but animals do not do any of these things. That is why the poet likes them.
Q4. How are Animals different from Humans about owning things or kneeling to one another?
Answer: Human beings are maniacal about possessing things but animals do not care for possession. This craze is observed in the human race only. Animals do not kneel to other animals as humans do. For them, all are equal.