'Respondez !' by Walt Whitman

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RESPONDEZ! Respondez!
(The war is completed--the price is paid--the title is settled beyond
Let every one answer! let those who sleep be waked! let none evade!
Must we still go on with our affectations and sneaking?
Let me bring this to a close--I pronounce openly for a new
distribution of roles;
Let that which stood in front go behind! and let that which was
behind advance to the front and speak;
Let murderers, bigots, fools, unclean persons, offer new
Let the old propositions be postponed!
Let faces and theories be turn'd inside out! let meanings be freely
criminal, as well as results!
Let there be no suggestion above the suggestion of drudgery! 10
Let none be pointed toward his destination! (Say! do you know your
Let men and women be mock'd with bodies and mock'd with Souls!
Let the love that waits in them, wait! let it die, or pass stillborn
to other spheres!
Let the sympathy that waits in every man, wait! or let it also pass,
a dwarf, to other spheres!
Let contradictions prevail! let one thing contradict another! and let
one line of my poems contradict another!
Let the people sprawl with yearning, aimless hands! let their tongues
be broken! let their eyes be discouraged! let none descend into
their hearts with the fresh lusciousness of love!
(Stifled, O days! O lands! in every public and private corruption!
Smother'd in thievery, impotence, shamelessness, mountain-high;
Brazen effrontery, scheming, rolling like ocean's waves around and
upon you, O my days! my lands!
For not even those thunderstorms, nor fiercest lightnings of the war,
have purified the atmosphere;)20
--Let the theory of America still be management, caste, comparison!
(Say! what other theory would you?)
Let them that distrust birth and death still lead the rest! (Say! why
shall they not lead you?)
Let the crust of hell be neared and trod on! let the days be darker
than the nights! let slumber bring less slumber than waking
time brings!
Let the world never appear to him or her for whom it was all made!
Let the heart of the young man still exile itself from the heart of
the old man! and let the heart of the old man be exiled from
that of the young man!
Let the sun and moon go! let scenery take the applause of the
audience! let there be apathy under the stars!
Let freedom prove no man's inalienable right! every one who can
tyrannize, let him tyrannize to his satisfaction!
Let none but infidels be countenanced!
Let the eminence of meanness, treachery, sarcasm, hate, greed,
indecency, impotence, lust, be taken for granted above all! let
writers, judges, governments, households, religions,
philosophies, take such for granted above all!
Let the worst men beget children out of the worst women!30
Let the priest still play at immortality!
Let death be inaugurated!
Let nothing remain but the ashes of teachers, artists, moralists,
lawyers, and learn'd and polite persons!
Let him who is without my poems be assassinated!
Let the cow, the horse, the camel, the garden-bee--let the mudfish,
the lobster, the mussel, eel, the sting-ray, and the grunting
pig-fish--let these, and the like of these, be put on a perfect
equality with man and woman!
Let churches accommodate serpents, vermin, and the corpses of those
who have died of the most filthy of diseases!
Let marriage slip down among fools, and be for none but fools!
Let men among themselves talk and think forever obscenely of women!
and let women among themselves talk and think obscenely of men!
Let us all, without missing one, be exposed in public, naked,
monthly, at the peril of our lives! let our bodies be freely
handled and examined by whoever chooses!
Let nothing but copies at second hand be permitted to exist upon the
Let the earth desert God, nor let there ever henceforth be mention'd
the name of God!
Let there be no God!
Let there be money, business, imports, exports, custom, authority,
precedents, pallor, dyspepsia, smut, ignorance, unbelief!
Let judges and criminals be transposed! let the prison-keepers be put
in prison! let those that were prisoners take the keys! Say!
why might they not just as well be transposed?)
Let the slaves be masters! let the masters become slaves!
Let the reformers descend from the stands where they are forever
bawling! let an idiot or insane person appear on each of the
Let the Asiatic, the African, the European, the American, and the
Australian, go armed against the murderous stealthiness of each
other! let them sleep armed! let none believe in good will!
Let there be no unfashionable wisdom! let such be scorn'd and derided
off from the earth!
Let a floating cloud in the sky--let a wave of the sea--let growing
mint, spinach, onions, tomatoes--let these be exhibited as
shows, at a great price for admission!
Let all the men of These States stand aside for a few smouchers! let
the few seize on what they choose! let the rest gawk, giggle,
starve, obey!50
Let shadows be furnish'd with genitals! let substances be deprived of
their genitals!
Let there be wealthy and immense cities--but still through any of
them, not a single poet, savior, knower, lover!
Let the infidels of These States laugh all faith away!
If one man be found who has faith, let the rest set upon him!
Let them affright faith! let them destroy the power of breeding
Let the she-harlots and the he-harlots be prudent! let them dance on,
while seeming lasts! (O seeming! seeming! seeming!)
Let the preachers recite creeds! let them still teach only what they
have been taught!
Let insanity still have charge of sanity!
Let books take the place of trees, animals, rivers, clouds!
Let the daub'd portraits of heroes supersede heroes!60
Let the manhood of man never take steps after itself!
Let it take steps after eunuchs, and after consumptive and genteel
Let the white person again tread the black person under his heel!
(Say! which is trodden under heel, after all?)
Let the reflections of the things of the world be studied in mirrors!
let the things themselves still continue unstudied!
Let a man seek pleasure everywhere except in himself!
Let a woman seek happiness everywhere except in herself!
(What real happiness have you had one single hour through your whole
Let the limited years of life do nothing for the limitless years of
death! (What do you suppose death will do, then?)

Editor 1 Interpretation

Respondez! by Walt Whitman: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation


Walt Whitman is a poet who needs no introduction. His literary works are known for their boldness, honesty, and revolutionary theme. One of his poems that stand out is "Respondez!" It is a poem that has been interpreted by scholars and critics in various ways. However, what does the poem mean, and what is the significance of its theme? This literary criticism and interpretation will explore the poem in-depth and provide insights into its meaning.

Form and Structure

"Respondez!" is a poem that is structured in a unique way. It is a list poem that comprises of 36 questions. Each question is followed by the title "Respondez!" which means "Answer!" The poem has a total of 36 lines, one for each question. The poem is also written in free verse, meaning that it lacks a regular rhyme pattern or meter.

The use of a list poem in "Respondez!" is significant. It allows Whitman to ask a series of questions that address different aspects of society. Each question is independent of the other and can be seen as a reflection of a particular issue that was prevalent during Whitman's time. The use of free verse also adds to the poem's theme of freedom and liberation from societal conventions.


The themes in "Respondez!" are quite diverse. They include:

  1. Freedom and Individuality

One of the central themes in the poem is freedom and individuality. Whitman is known for his advocacy for individualism and breaking away from societal conventions. In "Respondez!", he asks questions that challenge the reader to question their beliefs, morals, and values. For instance, in line 7, he asks:

"Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you?"

This question challenges the reader to think about whether they have only learned from those who have been kind to them, or whether they have also learned from those who have challenged them. The theme of freedom and individuality is also seen in the poem's structure, where Whitman uses free verse to break away from traditional poetic conventions.

  1. Politics and Social Justice

Another significant theme in "Respondez!" is politics and social justice. Whitman was a keen observer of societal issues and used his poetry to address them. In the poem, he asks questions that address various political and social issues of his time. For instance, in line 8, he asks:

"Have you not imported this, or the spirit of it, in some ship or other?"

This question challenges the reader to think about whether they have been involved in politics or social justice movements and whether they have contributed to change. The theme of politics and social justice is also seen in other questions such as line 21, where Whitman asks:

"Do you acknowledge this the signal patriotism of peace? The savior's sustainability of the world?"

Here, Whitman challenges the reader to think about what true patriotism is and whether peace is a sign of it.

  1. Religion and Spirituality

Religion and spirituality are also significant themes in "Respondez!" Whitman was known for his interest in spirituality and used his poetry to explore it. In the poem, he asks questions that address different aspects of religion and spirituality. For instance, in line 27, he asks:

"Is your church a subsistence? Is it not the grape on the cluster that you eat?"

Here, Whitman challenges the reader to think about whether their religion is a source of sustenance or whether it is merely an outward expression. The theme of religion and spirituality is also seen in other questions such as line 22 where Whitman asks:

"Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?"

Here, Whitman challenges the reader to think about the role of poetry in spirituality.


"Respondez!" is a poem that can be interpreted in various ways. The following are some interpretations:

  1. Challenging the Reader

One interpretation of "Respondez!" is that Whitman is challenging the reader to question their beliefs, morals, and values. Whitman's use of questions is significant in this interpretation. Each question challenges the reader to think critically about their views and whether they align with societal expectations. The use of free verse also adds to this interpretation, as it represents a break from traditional conventions and encourages the reader to think outside the box.

  1. Advocating for Social Justice

Another interpretation of "Respondez!" is that Whitman is advocating for social justice. The poem tackles various issues, including politics and societal conventions, and challenges the reader to think about their role in promoting change. Whitman's use of questions in this interpretation is significant, as it encourages the reader to reflect on their actions and whether they contribute to positive change.

  1. Exploring Spirituality

"Respondez!" can also be interpreted as an exploration of spirituality. Whitman was known for his interest in spirituality, and his poetry often explored this theme. The poem's questions challenge the reader to think about the role of spirituality in their lives and how it relates to societal conventions.


In conclusion, "Respondez!" is a poem that is rich in themes and interpretations. The poem's structure, use of free verse, and questions make it a unique piece of literature that challenges the reader to question their beliefs, morals, and values. The themes of freedom and individuality, politics and social justice, and religion and spirituality are significant in the poem and provide insights into Whitman's views. "Respondez!" is a timeless piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Respondez! by Walt Whitman is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a poem that speaks to the heart and soul of every reader, and it is a poem that has the power to move and inspire. In this analysis, we will take a closer look at the poem and explore its themes, structure, and meaning.

Firstly, it is important to note that the title of the poem, Respondez!, is a French word that means "respond" or "answer". This sets the tone for the poem, as it is a call to action for the reader to respond to the poet's words. It is an invitation to engage with the poem and to become an active participant in the experience.

The poem is structured in a unique way, with each stanza beginning with the word "Respondez!". This repetition creates a sense of urgency and emphasizes the importance of the reader's response. The poem is also written in free verse, which allows the poet to express himself in a more natural and spontaneous way. This style of writing is characteristic of Whitman's work, as he was known for his unconventional approach to poetry.

The poem begins with the lines, "Respondez! Respondez! / The countries shall be asked / Which of the States is for Liberty". This opening sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it establishes the theme of freedom and democracy. Whitman is calling on the reader to take a stand for liberty and to declare their allegiance to the cause.

Throughout the poem, Whitman uses vivid imagery and powerful language to convey his message. He describes the "proud armies" and the "marching hosts" that will fight for freedom, and he speaks of the "banners and pennants" that will wave in the wind. These images create a sense of patriotism and inspire the reader to join the fight for liberty.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of repetition. The word "Respondez!" is repeated throughout the poem, creating a sense of urgency and emphasizing the importance of the reader's response. This repetition also serves to unify the poem, as it ties together the various stanzas and creates a sense of continuity.

Another important aspect of the poem is its use of rhetorical questions. Whitman asks, "Who but a fool would give up liberty and enter into bondage?" and "Who would be a slave?" These questions are designed to provoke thought and to challenge the reader's assumptions. They force the reader to consider the importance of freedom and to question the status quo.

The poem also contains a number of allusions to historical events and figures. Whitman references the American Revolution and the French Revolution, as well as the founding fathers of the United States. These allusions serve to connect the poem to a larger historical context and to emphasize the importance of the struggle for freedom.

In conclusion, Poetry Respondez! by Walt Whitman is a powerful and inspiring poem that speaks to the heart and soul of every reader. It is a call to action for the reader to respond to the poet's words and to join the fight for liberty. The poem's structure, themes, and use of language all contribute to its impact, and it remains a classic work of poetry that continues to resonate with readers today.

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