One of the most influential writers in American history, Walt Whitman became the voice of cultural American in the 19th century. Though somewhat controversial during his life, his writings incorporate both Transcendentalism and realism. His major poetry collection, “Leaves of Grass”, first published in 1855, was a landmark in the history of American literature and included the poem "All is Truth." In this poem, Whitman, who had been a man of slack faith for so long, comes to the realization of an all-diffused truth. He discovers that there is no lie or form of lie, and that truth grows as inevitably upon itself as any law of the earth or any natural production of the earth. This realization leads him to celebrate anything he sees or is, and to sing, laugh, and deny nothing.
O me, man of slack faith so long!
Standing aloof—denying portions so long;
Only aware to-day of compact, all-diffused truth;
Discovering to-day there is no lie, or form of lie, and can be none,
but grows as inevitably upon itself as the truth does upon
Or as any law of the earth, or any natural production of the earth
(This is curious, and may not be realized immediately—But it must be
I feel in myself that I represent falsehoods equally with the rest,
And that the universe does.)
Where has fail'd a perfect return, indifferent of lies or the truth?
Is it upon the ground, or in water or fire? or in the spirit of man?
or in the meat and blood?
Meditating among liars, and retreating sternly into myself, I see
that there are really no liars or lies after all,
And that nothing fails its perfect return—And that what are called
lies are perfect returns,
And that each thing exactly represents itself, and what has preceded
And that the truth includes all, and is compact, just as much as
space is compact,
And that there is no flaw or vacuum in the amount of the truth—but
that all is truth without exception;
And henceforth I will go celebrate anything I see or am,
And sing and laugh, and deny nothing.
- How does Whitman’s view of truth align with or differ from your own understanding of truth?
- What does the poem suggest about the relationship between truth and the natural world?
- What emotions or thoughts does Whitman’s celebration of existence evoke in you as a reader?