One's-Self I Sing -
for baritone and piano
One’s-Self I sing—a simple, separate Person;
Yet utter the word
Democratic, the word En-masse.
Of Physiology from top to toe I sing;
Not physiognomy alone, nor brain alone, is worthy for the muse—
I say the
Form complete is worthier far;
The Female equally with the male I sing.
Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful—for freest action
form’d, under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.
[ 4 pages, circa 2' 30" ]
The text is from Leaves of Grass, and had gone through revisions by
Whitman from initial through subsequent editions. He thought this particular
text, in a later revision, important enough to serve as the "Inscription" to
the fourth edition of Leaves of Grass. [ 1 ]
One commentator notes, "In a modern, democratic society, as Tocqueville had
said, no intermediate allegiances stand between the individual citizen and
the entire body politic."
[ 2 ] We know from Whitman's
other texts that individuality was of great value to him, especially in
terms of personal freedom. For this another scholar note Whitman's
"republican ideals of early-nineteenth-century artisan radicalism,
emphasizing the interlinked values of independence and community, personal
wealth and commonwealth." [ 3 ]
I am indebted to Bruce Perry for calling my attention to this text for a
possible song setting, as I was setting Shelley's
Music, when Soft Voices die for him especially.
The text seemed to me square-edged, willing to throw a proverbial elbow if
need be and powerful. For this a sense of Americana had to fill the musical
setting of this text. I chose a square, lightly syncopated vocabulary, which
is more complex that seems upon first appearance, as the tonic settles
momentarily into E flat for a moment, one example of such "querilities," a
word of Whitman's which bespeaks that individuality which then can be seen
as part of the collective. Of course, no collective which crushes
individuality can long stand, for radical equality and "passion, pulse, and
power" come from the individual. This is a celebration of "One's-Self," with
the hyphen as Whitman chose to spell it, suggesting to me that the One and
self are inseparable. The up tempo feel to the setting could be
quicker than noted, but clarity of the text should be paramount.
The score for One's-Self I Sing is available as a free PDF download,
though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is
prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic
below for this piano-vocal score.
One's-Self I Sing
[ 1 ] The
final version of this text is as follows:
Small is the theme of the following Chant, yet the greatest --
ONE'S SELF -- that wondrous thing, a simple, separate person.
That, for the use of the New World, I sing.
Man's physiology complete, from top to toe, I sing. Not
physiognomy alone, nor brain alone, is worthy for the muse; -- I
say the Form complete is worthier far. The female equally with
the male, I sing.
Nor cease at the theme of One's-Self. I speak the word of the
modern, the word EN-MASSE.
My Days I sing, and the Lands -- with interstice I knew of
O friend, whoe'er you are, at last arriving hither to commence,
through every leaf the pressure of your hand, which I return.
thus upon our journey link'd together let us go.
[ 2 ] In
"On 'One's Self I Sing,'" by James Dougherty, from
Walt Whitman and the Citizen’s Eye (Louisiana State UP,
[ 3 ] Betsy
Whitman the Political Poet, Oxford University Press,