That Music Always Round Me, Walt Whitman – an Analysis


Yes! Yes it is! So long as I have my earphones…

Gut Reaction
It’s… it’s not exactly Slipknot, now is it?

What does it all mean?
That music always round me, unceasing, unbeginning–yet long untaught
I did not hear;

This sounds like my mp3 player. I can’t leave the house without music yet I wonder sometimes if I’ve even been listening to it.
There is background music that we don’t pick up on, we know it’s there yet don’t listen. Perhaps not just music – words, advice…stuff.

But now the chorus I hear, and am elated;
But now I hear it? Now I get whatever point I’ve been missing? Or now I hear multiple voices that give me hope or give me answers?

A tenor, strong, ascending, with power and health, with glad notes of
day-break I hear,

Something male, and high-pitched, rising with…messages of power and strength is the voice I hear when I wake in the morning. Um. Is that a religious undertone? I’m hearing the voice of god first thing in the morning and it’s telling me of life and all its glory? I don’t know quite what to make of that.

A soprano, at intervals, sailing buoyantly over the tops of immense

And now a high-pitched female is what, keeping afloat in waves and coming at me? What on earth does that mean? That this…force? Whatever it is? Doesn’t sink no matter how hard the waves? Is this a mother figure that is always there no matter what happens?

A transparent bass, shuddering lusciously under and through the

Is this homage to the land beneath our feet, the endless source that the Earth provides for us? Recognition of how tiny we are in the scheme of things when we consider the universe?

The triumphant tutti–the funeral wailings, with sweet flutes and
violins–all these I fill myself with;

I fill myself with all the aspects of life; the happy and the sad.

I hear not the volumes of sound merely–I am moved by the exquisite

I hear beyond just the music – the words? – I hear the full message and everything behind it. I hear the purpose.

I listen to the different voices winding in and out, striving,
contending with fiery vehemence to excel each other in emotion;

I observe all that is good and bad, all the people in the world and their daily struggles and feelings. I hear the people around me and recognise my similarity/difference to them.

I do not think the performers know themselves–but now I think I
begin to know them.

By observing how other people are I know more about them than they do themselves. As in, we all do things we’re not necessarily aware of but an outsider might see through that and see who we truly are. Scary thought.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
One long stanza of very little end rhyme.

It feels like… revelation. Realising all will be well. If not finding god, then finding purpose.

Suggested rhyme scheme
I’m not fond of this rhyming scheme. If we take it line for line then:

But if we look at the way the punctuation falls, then:

There is little end rhyme but there is alliteration and lots of assonance throughout.

Similes and metaphors
Perhaps all the musical terminology can be seen as parental or god-like figures. Music overall as inspiration, realising or figuring out the answers you were looking for – enlightenment?

Author’s relationship with their subject
Joyous, that feeling of ‘I get it now’?

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
This poem was commissioned by the Bellevue Chamber Chorus in celebration of their 20th anniversary.

The poem seems to be up for interpretation in two ways. One, purely through the inclusiveness of music. And two, the bigger stuff, the recognition of our place in the cosmos and how we are all one.

Signing off
I was drawn to the title of this poem because music is such a part of my routine. My mp3 player is the first thing I reach for when I leave home, and when I can’t sleep, which is often, music is the thing that keeps me company.

I also think that song lyrics are poems and that anyone who cannot see that they are one and the same really is missing out. The words of both songs and poems have resonated with me and I am sure they resonate with most people. Songs are just poetry in a more accessible ‘accepted’ form but for me there is no difference. And with that in mind, I learn things through songs, through poetry, about myself and the world around me. They have both been my teacher, my counsellor, my propper-upper in bad times.

I want to interpret this poem as just that: you can find hope – find home – within music and poetry. Both of these bring people together, verbalise experiences not all of us are so lucky to be able to express. Music is that big, that important, and poetry therefore is too.

I do feel there are a few religious or ‘spiritual’ undertones here about if you find religion you find yourself and therefore your answers to whatever you have questions for. By appreciating music and poetry, you also get to know about other people, even if they interpret or have different reactions to the same song or poem.

But ultimately, for me, this is about the inclusiveness and escape that is music.



Poetry Foundation

John Muehleisen

When I read this I think of the song… Sweet Soul Music


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