Barbaric Yawps

I too am not a bit tamed . . . . I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
Whitman is relating himself to his “barbaric yawp”. What he means by “barbaric yawp” is his own work (the poem itself). This poem can be considered free verse, and during his time that would have been seen as “barbaric” in a way. People were used to rhyme, meter, and basically “epic poetry”. By Whitman saying he’s not tamed and untranslatable, he’s relating himself to his work and the criticism he assumed he would get. By putting this at the end of the poem he is also saying he doesn’t care. To the world he knows he will seem “barbaric” but his barbarianism is natural. The opposite of barbaric is civilized. Civilization is actually complicated because it takes away the natural and tries to conform all.
The end quote helps us to analyze the rest of the poem because he hints at making remarks against civilization.
“I resist anything better than my own diversity,
And breathe the air and leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.”
Here this statement basically says he is just here to live. He holds control of his own life. Life is natural and doesn’t have a place to be or a time limit. Civilization takes away freedom of life and Whitman wants to reject civilization with his “barbaric yawps”.
“A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? . . . . I do not know what it is any more than he.”
The child asking the narrator “What is the grass?”opens a big section where the narrator tries to describe grass. The narrator ends up comparing the grass to parts of dead people. He is thinking about how corpses are buried and human remains turn into the soil, which then produces grass (the circle of life). This shows he knows much more than the child about grass even though he says, “I do not know what it is any more than he.” The narrator may not know scientifically about photosynthesis and such but his knowledge is about death and corpses in the ground; maybe he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to a kid about death.
This idea seemed important to me because he is talks a lot about God, Heaven, Hell, and life. Throughout the poem I got a sense that Whitman was really emphasizing how complex life is. This reminded me of “The American Scholar”, by Emerson, because of his ideas about the “Man Thinking”. The narrator is a Man Thinking in the sense that he really analyses different aspects and layers of life.


Hey my name is Lauren Engbritson and I’m a fourth year at SF State. I’m excited to share my thoughts throughout this semester learning about American lit. I’m originally from Sacramento, CA, and I’ve enjoyed the last few years spent in the city. I was originally a journalism major but after two years I realized English was my passion. I’ve enjoyed the department so far and can’t wait to graduate as an English major in the near future. I hope to take as much as I can from this class and that it will be an interesting semester.

Interestingly enough I come from a very mix-raced family in Sacramento. I’m third generation Chinese, African American, and White. In my opinion I have a very interesting family history and I only wish I knew more about it. Being so diverse, the term “American” has intrigued me all my life. I’m excited to see what this class has to offer about the term “American” and what I can learn to broaden my knowledge on American lit. and history.