Within this short poem Whitman has given voice to so many of our collective hopes, dreams and fears.
Every one of us is just one of a multitude and it is hard to feel like an individual when you are all alone. Most people in the multitude will not even notice that you are there. Picture this multitude like the rush hour crowds who stream in or out of a subway car. They don’t look at the individual people, they only see the crowd. There is loneliness in that one line “Among the men and women the multitude” – so many people and yet not one individual making contact.
The second line, “I perceive one picking me out by secret and divine sign”, is the hope. It is that moment when a connection is made with another person. Sometimes it is love at first sight, sometimes just a very intense look, when for one second eye contact is made with just one person in the multitude, and for that one second, both are united, no longer alone.
“Acknowledging none else, not parent, wife, husband, brother, child any nearer than I am” – this is the dream. That even if it is only for that one second, to that one other person you are the most important person in the universe. This is a particularly intimate moment and given all the people that are less important than the narrator it can apply to almost anyone and yet can also be a lover.
“Some are baffled, but that one is not that one knows me” – now we enter the realm of the fantasy. The connection between the narrator and the “one” is so intimate as to be unrealistic given the momentary nature of the connection and yet it is long enough to be noticed by someone else and disapproved of.
“Ah lover, perfect equal” – this is one of the most moving lines. Who is our equal, does this mean social equal or is it perhaps, a forbidden love? Again it could be and the possibility that we could find this perfect equal gives this poem so much hope.
“I meant that you should discover me so by faint indirections.” This relates back to being only one small individual in the multitude and the thought that everyone is looking for their soul mate within the multitude. The chances are small, and yet everyone looks and hopes.
“And I when I meet you mean to discover you by the like in you” – And so the ultimate hope is that it is not just a brief encounter a meeting of the eyes but the potential is there for a meeting of the minds. The sharing of thoughts and hopes and the discovering of what will make a lifetime connection make this a poem that is timeless. When two will be together in the multitude and will never have to be one again.
This is a very touching poem. It has so much hope in it that in an imperfect world there is a perfect match out there to make the person whole, “And the two shall be as one”. Knowing what we do now about Whitman’s sexuality, makes this poem even more poignant.
“Among the Multitude” by Walt Whitman
Among the men and women, the multitude,
I perceive one picking me out by secret and divine signs,
Acknowledging none else not parent, wife, husband, brother, child, any nearer than I am;
Some are baffled, but that one is not – that one knows me.
Ah, lover and perfect equal!
I meant that you should discover me so, by my faint indirections;
And I, when I meet you, mean to discover you by the like in you.
I have been an Internet writer for more than 16 years. While I specialize in travel, I write on a variety of subjects. I love genealogy, food, and fashion. I have 10 grandchildren so family travel is something we often do.