'Who Is Now Reading This?' by Walt Whitman

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May-be one is now reading this who knows some wrong-doing of my past
Or may-be a stranger is reading this who has secretly loved me,
Or may-be one who meets all my grand assumptions and egotisms with
Or may-be one who is puzzled at me.

As if I were not puzzled at myself!
Or as if I never deride myself! (O conscience-struck! O self-
Or as if I do not secretly love strangers! (O tenderly, a long time,
and never avow it;)
Or as if I did not see, perfectly well, interior in myself, the stuff
of wrong-doing,
Or as if it could cease transpiring from me until it must cease.10

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Who Is Now Reading This?" by Walt Whitman: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Walt Whitman's poem "Who Is Now Reading This?" is a powerful and thought-provoking examination of the nature of poetry and its relationship to its readers. Written in Whitman's characteristic free verse style, the poem is a meditation on the role of the poet in society, and the profound impact that their work can have on those who read it. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the various themes and literary devices employed by Whitman to convey his message, and examine how his poem continues to resonate with readers today.

Form and Structure

One of the most striking features of "Who Is Now Reading This?" is its form and structure. The poem is written in free verse, with no set meter or rhyme scheme, and the lines are often long and meandering. This gives the poem a sense of freedom and spontaneity, as though Whitman is allowing his thoughts to flow freely onto the page without constraint.

At the same time, however, there is a sense of structure to the poem. Each stanza is composed of four lines, and the first and third lines of each stanza are nearly identical, while the second and fourth lines vary. This creates a sense of repetition and rhythm that helps to unify the poem, even as it remains free-flowing and unstructured.

As we read the poem, we also notice that Whitman frequently uses anaphora, repeating certain phrases or words at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, in the second stanza, he writes:

Reader! what soul that was not flippant, soused in gin,
Battered in endless defeats, could stand this continual gnawing of conscience,
This rankling of the heart, this silent, unseen cancer of the spirit?
(Ah, dost thou fear the worst? Shall the dead eat the living?)

This repetition of the word "this" creates a sense of urgency and intensity, and draws our attention to the themes that Whitman is exploring in the poem.


At its core, "Who Is Now Reading This?" is a poem about the power of poetry to move and inspire its readers. Whitman begins by asking who it is that is reading his words, and then goes on to explore the various emotions and experiences that his readers might be feeling. He writes about the pain and suffering of the human condition, and the deep sense of longing that we all feel for something more.

Yet amidst all of this darkness and despair, there is a sense of hope and optimism in the poem. Whitman reminds us that even in our darkest moments, we are not alone – there are others who have experienced the same struggles and come out the other side. And it is through the power of poetry that we are able to connect with these other souls, to find comfort and solace in their words.

Another theme that runs throughout the poem is the idea that poetry is a form of rebellion against the forces of conformity and oppression. Whitman writes:

Let the reformers descend from the stands where they are forever bawling,
Let an idiot or insane person appear on each of the stands,
Let the Asiatic despots confront their kindred despots,
Let the counters make their entries, let the craftsmen appear with their tools,
Let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.

Here, Whitman is arguing that poetry has the power to subvert the established order of things, to challenge the status quo and offer a new way of looking at the world. By writing in a free and unstructured style, he is breaking free from the limitations of traditional poetic forms and asserting his own individuality and creativity.

Literary Devices

Throughout "Who Is Now Reading This?", Whitman employs a wide variety of literary devices to convey his message. One of the most notable of these is imagery, as he uses vivid and evocative descriptions to paint a picture of the world and the emotions that he is exploring. For example, in the first stanza, he writes:

Who is now reading this?
May-be one is now reading this who knows some wrong-doing of my past life,
Or may-be a stranger is reading this who has secretly loved me,
Or may-be one who meets all my grand assumptions and egotisms with derision,
Or may-be one who is puzzled at me.

The use of the word "puzzled" here is particularly effective, as it immediately creates a sense of tension and uncertainty. We are left wondering who this reader might be, and what their reaction to the poem will be.

Another literary device that Whitman employs frequently in the poem is repetition, as we have already noted. He uses repetition to create a sense of rhythm and momentum, and to draw our attention to certain ideas and themes. For example, in the fourth stanza, he writes:

The poets elevate us, they prepare us for our own divine adventures,
They beckon us to new and greater heights by their deeds and their words.

Here, the repetition of the phrase "they" emphasizes the importance of the poets in our lives, and underscores the central role that poetry plays in shaping our thoughts and emotions.


In conclusion, "Who Is Now Reading This?" is a powerful and moving poem that explores the nature of poetry and its impact on its readers. Through his use of free verse, repetition, and vivid imagery, Walt Whitman creates a sense of urgency and intensity that draws us into his world and forces us to confront the deepest parts of ourselves. And even though the poem was written over a century ago, its themes and ideas continue to resonate with readers today, reminding us of the enduring power of poetry to inspire, to challenge, and to transform our lives.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Who Is Now Reading This? A Poetic Masterpiece by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman, the father of free verse, is one of the most celebrated poets in American literature. His works are known for their unconventional style, vivid imagery, and themes of democracy, nature, and individualism. Among his many famous poems, "Who Is Now Reading This?" stands out as a powerful meditation on the human condition and the timeless nature of literature.

The poem, which consists of only four stanzas, begins with a rhetorical question: "Who is now reading this? May-be one is now reading this who knows some wrong-doing of my past life." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is introspective and self-reflective. Whitman seems to be addressing not just his readers but also himself, as if he is trying to come to terms with his own flaws and mistakes.

The second stanza continues this theme of self-examination, as Whitman reflects on the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. He writes, "Or may-be a stranger is reading this who has secretly loved me, / Or one who I have loved secretly, or one whom I once loved or / Now love." Here, Whitman acknowledges the complexity of human relationships and the many ways in which we connect with each other. He also hints at the idea that literature can transcend time and space, reaching readers who may be far removed from the poet's own life and experiences.

The third stanza takes a more philosophical turn, as Whitman muses on the nature of existence and the role of literature in shaping our understanding of the world. He writes, "Or may-be it is myself who is reading this, / Myself in everything, and everything in myself." This line suggests that the act of reading is not just a passive experience but an active engagement with the world around us. Through literature, we can explore different perspectives and expand our own understanding of ourselves and others.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, as Whitman returns to the question of who is reading his words. He writes, "Or may-be it is a man who has died, / And has found himself in a new world of the dead." This line is both haunting and hopeful, suggesting that even in death, we can continue to connect with others through the power of literature. The poem ends with a sense of mystery and wonder, as Whitman leaves us to ponder the many possible answers to his initial question.

Overall, "Who Is Now Reading This?" is a masterful example of Whitman's unique style and vision. Through his use of free verse and unconventional syntax, he creates a sense of intimacy and immediacy that draws the reader in. His themes of self-reflection, human connection, and the power of literature are timeless and universal, making this poem as relevant today as it was when it was first published over a century ago.

In conclusion, Walt Whitman's "Who Is Now Reading This?" is a poetic masterpiece that invites us to reflect on our own lives and the role of literature in shaping our understanding of the world. Through his vivid imagery and introspective tone, Whitman reminds us of the power of words to connect us with others and transcend time and space. Whether we are reading this poem for the first time or revisiting it after many years, we can all find something to relate to in its timeless message of human connection and self-discovery.

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