Animals By Walt Whitman

The poet tells us that he feels more at home with animals than humans, whom he finds complicated and false.[/alert-alone]

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.

 

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,

No one kneels to another, nor to his kind that

lived 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 way huge times ago and negligently drop them?

            WALT WHITMAN

Animals Summary

Explanation of the Poem

Stanza 1

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.

Explanation

The poet here desires to turn into an animals and live with them as he is impressed by their calmness and the purity of their mind. Unlike humans, animals seems so contained with their lives and are happy in their natural surroundings. The simple lives of animals help them maintain self-control and their rationality. He stand and looks at them for a long time. In the phrase ‘long and long’ implied meaning is the longing that the poet feels for these two qualities in human beings.

Stanza 2

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,

Explanation

The poet is quiet happy with the fact that animals do not make complaints and cry about their conditions like humans. They eat and sleep peacefully as they have nothing to worry about, while humans, because of their wrong actions are unable to do so and thus cannot sleep without worrying about them. Humans, even after committing sins, talk about God and rightness, while animals are simple creatures and they do not need to worry about praying to God. The poet here means that since animals are so pure, they do not pray to God for forgiveness or ask God to fulfil their desires like humans.

Stanza 3

Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with

the mania of owning things,

Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that

lived thousands of years ago,

Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

Explanation

Animals do not possess material things like humans and they are happy and satisfied without all the worldly items, the desire of which has affected human beings very badly. This desire to own things has been called madness by the poet. Animals are free from the habit of praying to their ancestors. When the poet says ‘not one is respectable’ he means that since all of them are equal, there is no question of respect to some and insult to others. All these features of animals make them happy and uncomplaining.

Stanza 4

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 way huge times ago and

negligently drop them?

Explanation

The poet feels that animals represent human beings in some way. This means that animals seem to have what humans once had, i.e. virtues like kindness, self-containment and innocence. They symbolise the lost values of the human race. He believed that civilisation has corrupted human beings and instead of teaching values to them, it has taught them greed. He believes in this poem that humans dropped these virtues a long time ago and have forgotten them.

Central Idea of Poem

In the poem ‘Animals’, the poet Walt Whitman praises animals for being better than human beings and for possessing all such qualities that humans lack or have forgotten. The poet wants to live among animals and experience a life where no one complains and where they are free of sins and sorrow.

The theme of the poem is not to praise how good animals are, but to compare humans with them in order to highlight the flaws of their nature. The poet believes that probably a very long time ago, humans possessed all the qualities, but they have lost them now.

Poetic Devices Used in the Poem

Personification : The poem has uniform personification

Repetition : Repetition of words/phrases in the same line

  • I stand and look at them long and long
  • They do not…..
  • Not one is ……

Alliteration : Repetition of initial consonant sounds in the same line.

  • They do not make me sick
  • I wonder where they get those tokens

Rhyme Scheme : There is no rhyme. The poem is in free verse.

Word Meanings

placid : quiet, calm

self-contain’d : poised (in the right mind; in full control of self)

sweat and whine : to cry (to complain)

sins : misdeeds (immoral actions)

demented : affected with madness

mania : madness; obsession

owning : possessing

kneels : bends (as a sign of respect)

tokens : symbols

evince : to show

possession : ownership

negligently : in a careless manner

Questions and Answers

NCERT Solutions

Thinking about the Poem (Page 84)

Question 1 : Notice the use of the word ‘turn’ in the first line, “I think I could turn and live with animals…”. What is the poet turning from?

Answer : In this line here, the poet wants to turn from human into an animal. This turning is symbolic of the poet’s detachment from human beings and their nature and his appreciation of the animal kind.

Question 2 : Mention three things that humans do and animals don’t.

Answer : Animals do not cry and complain over their conditions. They do not commit sins and therefore do not weep for them. They are also very satisfied creatures and have no desire to possess material things. Humans, on the contrary, complain all the time, commit all sorts of sins and are affected with the madness of owning things.

Question 3 : Do humans kneel to other humans who lived thousands of years ago? Discuss this in groups.

Answer : Yes, humans kneel to other humans who lived thousands of years ago as it is a cultural tradition to do so. (Students can discuss their own culture with their classmates and share the rituals and traditions of their culture and also get to know about other cultural practices.)

Question 4 : What are the ‘tokens’ that the poet says he may have dropped long ago, and which the animals have kept for him? Discuss this in class. (Hint: Whitman belongs to the Romantic tradition that includes Rousseau and Wordsworth, which holds that civilisation has made humans false to their own true nature.

What could be the basic aspect of our nature as living beings that humans choose to ignore or deny?)

Answer : The tokens mentioned in the poem mean the symbols of the true nature of human beings. These tokens are actually tokens of virtue such as contentment, honesty, innocence, kindness, joy, satisfaction and sharing. Humans took to vices such as greed, selfishness, desire to capture everything and other vices. Animals have carried forward the real instincts and characteristics which humans have forgotten.

Extra Questions

Extract Based Questions

Read the following extracts carefully and choose the correct option.

Question 1 :

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.

i) What does the poet want to turn into?

a) Child

b) Statue

c) Animals

d) Bird

ii) Who has composed this poem?

a) WB Yeats

b) Walt Whitman

c) Robert Frost

d) Carolyn Wells

iii) Which word in this stanza will be antonym of ‘agitated’?

a) Serene

b) Gentle

c) Self-contained

d) Placid

iv) Which qualities of animals attract the poet?

a) Faithfulness

b) Playfulness

c) Calmness and poise

d) Unrestricted life

Answer : i) c) Animals

ii) b) Walt Whitman

iii) d) Placid

iv) c) Calmness and poise

Question 2 : 

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,

i) Why do humans lie awake in the dark?

a) Do not feel sleepy

b) Feel guilty

c) Worried

d) Cry for their sins

ii) What does the word ‘whine’ mean here?

a) Pleased

b) Angry

c) High complaining cry

d) Utter softly

iii) Who are ‘they’ referred to here?

a) Animals

b) Human beings

c) Small children

d) Birds

iv) Why does the poet feel sick?

a) Humans running after money

b) Always complaining

c) Always criticising others

d) Sermonising themselves

Answer : i) d) Cry for their sins

ii) c) High complaining cry

iii) a) Animals

iv) d) Sermonising themselves

Short Questions and Answers

Question 1 : Why does poet like animals?

Answer : The poet likes animals for their self-contained and quiet nature. The fact that animals are not like human beings as they are satisfied with their lives, appeals to the poet a lot. The fact that animals have been able to retain the basic good values is appreciated by the poet.

Question 2 : Explain the satisfaction that animals have and humans don’t.

Answer : Animals do not have the desire to possess worldly things. Whereas, the more humans own, the more their desire to own grows, leaving them dissatisfied forever. The absence of this greed in animals keeps them satisfied.

Question 3 : Why do animals not weep for their sins?

Answer : Animals do not weep for their sins because they do not need to do so. They are innocent creatures that commit no sins. It is humans, who weep yet commit sins. Animals lead their life in a simple and pure way so there is no need for them to cry over their misdeeds.

Question 4 : What makes the poet sick?

Answer : The fact, that humans commit all kinds of sins and still discuss their duty of God, makes the poet sick. This shows the hypocrisy of humans, who on one hand do wrong and on the other pray to God.

Question 5 : Differentiate between humans and animals in terms of desire.

Answer : Animals are very different from humans as they have no desire to own things. They are happy without an unending greed while humans become mad uncontrollable in their greed for possessing valuables.

Long Questions and Answers

Question 1 : Why do you think the poet has called the desire to won things, a mania? Is the poet right in doing so? Write your views.

Answer : The poet uses words such as ‘demented’ and ‘mania’ for never ending desires of human beings to own things. The more we get, the more greedy we become. Acquisition of materialistic things is a rat race in which human beings keep running after them continuously. There is no end to greed. The words ‘demented’ and ‘mania’ shows that poet is comparing these desires to madness as people are madly trying to acquire more and more, never feeling satisfied. Animals are better off according to the poet as they do not fall into the mad race of acquiring more and more. They are free from from sins, worries and complaints. In order to gain more wealth, all the important values such as morality and kindness are left behind.

Question 2 : What according to you should be the virtues that humans should possess?

Answer : Human beings should be gentle not only to their own kind but also to everyone and everything.  Virtues such as kindness being along other important values like innocence and honesty that together make the world a better place to live. The lack of such values results in a corrupt society where people commit sins and weep over them in dark. This situation makes them dissatisfied and unhappy in life. Humans beings probably had these virtues in them but along with civilisation processes, they have left them behind and adopted greed and cunningness and jealousy. Animals are continuing possessing these virtues as even today we find them faithful, innocent, kind and generous.

Question 3 : The key to happiness is ‘Do not complain but accept the situation’. Elaborate it in context of the poem ‘Animals’.

Answer : The poet Walt Whitman in his poem ‘Animals’ compares animals to human beings and differentiates between them on the basis of their characteristics. Animals have been ranked much higher than humans in poet’s perception. Since animals do not complain about their situation, they are considered to be much happier than humans. Animals live in natural surroundings, they accept their natural lives. Humans, on the other hand, have never accepted nature, i.e. they complain about it and try to change it, leading to an unhappy life. Human beings are very demanding, greedy and non-caring about others. Humans continuously keep complaining about their situations, problems as their expectations are never ending.

Question 4 : The poet in the poem ‘Animals’ laments the loss of certain values on the part of human beings, whereas animals seems to have retained them and are self-contented. Analyse the cause of degeneration of values in today’s hard times.

Answer : In the modern civilized world, human beings have achieved a lot of material values but lost the real virtues. The more developed and modern human beings became, the more they lost the essence of their characters. Animals, whereas, never adapted to any material goods and always remained natural. This natural aspect of animals has helped them maintain their values. Humans, in order to possess more and more have forgotten kindness and innocence. They indulge in all unethical practices which are devoid of any good virtue, hence the poet laments (complaints) the loss of good values on part of human beings.