Walt Whitman was an American poet in the 1800s. Much of his poetry reflects his transcendentalist beliefs– including the beliefs that humans are inherently good, and function best when they are self-sufficient, without the heavy-handed influences of society and institutions.
Whitman’s views on self-reliance and the goodness of human nature made for beautiful, thought-provoking insights into people’s relationships with themselves. These insights still ring true, largely in the realms of self-acceptance and self-love. Here are ten Whitman quotes from his complete book of poems, "Leaves of Grass," and my interpretations of how they apply to us today.
1. “I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.”
Take time to discover who you are. You may be surprised at what you’ll find. Perhaps even make a list of all the things you’re good at, or all the good deeds you’ve done. The list will end up bigger than you thought it would be.
2. “Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me, whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.”
If someone rejects you, whether it’s a friend, a potential partner, or even an employer, you’re better off without them. You are a whole and complete person regardless of whether someone else validates you. When someone who does accept you comes along, rejoice in the opportunity to share something meaningful with them.
3. “Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.”
Recognizing the beauty in others is just as important as seeing it in yourself. A huge indicator of self-confidence is the ability to see others as equal to you.
4. “I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
Allow yourself the freedom to be who you are. You don’t have to label or put yourself in a box for the convenience of others. And you certainly don’t have to explain yourself. Express yourself freely and let people make of that what they will.
5. "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"
Embrace your imperfection, and allow yourself to change your mind. Ever-changing moods and opinions are a normal and essential part of human nature. Embrace the different sides of yourself, disagree with yourself, learn something new, and add all of that to the vast collection of your unique human experiences.
6. “I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.”
In some areas of our lives we exceed expectations. In others, we may not reach them. Similarly, during some times in our lives it feels like we’re failing at everything, while other times we greet success after success. It is important not to have tunnel vision in either instance. When things are going wrong, remind yourself of your triumphs, and when you feel on top of the world, remember to stay humble.
7. “Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good fortune; henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing. Strong and content, I travel the open road.”
Understand that you have all you need inside yourself already. You don’t need to look for it anywhere else. Face your life's journey with confidence, learn to be a little tough, and know when you can push yourself beyond your perceived limits.
8. “Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, when I give I give myself.”
Have the audacity to believe that sometimes, you are enough. You don’t have to shower people with gifts or always go someplace special to spend time with people. Simply give them your company, your attention, and your love. To the people who truly matter, that’s what’s important anyway.
9. “Nothing endures but personal qualities.”
Remember to pull away from material distractions once in a while, take inventory of who you are inside, and work on yourself. Physical belongings don’t last forever– you'll outlive all of them. It's far more important to be happy with the kind of person you are.
10. “I celebrate myself, and sing myself.”
Appreciate yourself. You deserve it.