Walt Whitman Teaches Us to Question Everything




I have taught Walt Whitman in several classes, and this excerpt is from his introduction to the 1855 First Edition of Leaves of Grass.



Whitman was one of the greatest American poets and has been called the Bard of Democracy. He challenged the existing views of normalcy in the United States across a wide range of topics. We live in a time, perhaps even more than in the 1800s, when great pressure exists to conform to what society defines normalcy to be. I believe it is crucial for individuals to find out who they are, for what they have passions, and what they believe. With this thought in mind, I want to share this small excerpt:

“re-examine all you have been told at church or school or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem”



Whitman shattered the conventions of his time, and his admonition to us to question everything is as important today as it was in the mid-1800s.



Please, keep Whitman’s idea in mind, and question everything.

65 thoughts on “Walt Whitman Teaches Us to Question Everything

  1. sportsattitudes

    I know it has gotten me in trouble at times but I do question anything that doesn’t seem fair or just…or make what I consider to be common sense. This post made my day. I’d like to think challenging the status quo keeps me alive. Great reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mr. Whitman is probably turning in his grave. It’s essential to challenge, to question and to think on our own. To respectfully disagree and more passionately disagree when called to do so. I think we are so afraid of not being accepted that this hinders us from carving our own path. This is an excellent post. Thank you

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I really admire this way of thinking. When I became a young adult, I started questioning what church, school and society had taught me, and over the past few years, some of my opinions and beliefs about things have changed increment by increment. I believe we should never stop questioning because if we do, we also lose our curiosity and sense of wonder about the world.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Questioning everything was how I had my first existential crisis about my own existence and the system and culture that I had taken for granted. That may sound negative, but it was the only way I started to grow as a real adult that saw more than just the surface of the world and the surface of people. Whitman was right on the money. (And thanks for following my blog!)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I was moved to tears by a chorale that performed one of Walt Whitman’s poems on the Civil War. He was truly a gifted writer.

    And this is minus the important little accent thingies, but there’s a French proverb that’s really appropriate: Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. It means the more things change, the more they remain the same, at least in essence. The need to question basic assumptions would definitely be unchanged, regardless of the societal forces that were the inciting incident for the questioning.

    Sorry, that was wordy, but hopefully, you get the idea. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on sherriemiranda1 and commented:
    I am deeply grateful to Charles French for putting this short bio of Walt Whitman together. The links are excellent and extracting Whitman’s theme, the thread that is in all of his writing, “Question Everything,” is very important to all of us who are trying to make this world a better place, yet I never realized this before.
    It really has me wondering if our leftist theme in the (19)80’s, seen on all our bumpers “Question Authority,” was taken from Whitman.
    If you are a supporter of social justice, take a look at Whitman’s poems. You may be pleasantly surprised! 😉 ❤
    Peace, love & justice for all,

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have a very special relationship with Walt Whitman. My copy of Leaves of Grass is almost see through, pages like onion skin. It is one I reach for, one that has traveled the globe with me. O Me! O Life! is one of those rare pieces of writing that touches me as if it were engraved upon my skin. Ben was raised on a healthy diet of Whitman. Thanks for sharing him.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In high school I took Albert Einstein’s quote to heart. “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” That week, during 10-days of detention (challenging, er, uh, being “insubordinate” to my social studies teacher), my American Lit teacher assigned Leaves of Grass. While I was often assigned detention and suspended from school, I imagine I would have been far more often had I not continued studying civil disobedience from wise teachers. To “be curious, not judgmental” took me longer to grasp. Thanks for the pleasant reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Elaina Jensen

    My Whitman favorite is Song of the Open Road. My son calls me the most curious person in the world because I ask so many questions. I think it’s important to question because even if I arrive at the same answers as others, I know how I got there.

    Liked by 1 person

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