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" Certainly, not all the questions presented in "Song of Myself" are so extremely direct as to use you.Yet the vast majority of the questions are clearly aimed at the reader, intended to elicit some type of response. These questions are posed with the intention of expanding the addressee's knowledge-- often through the work of the addressee him- or herself.In the poetry of Walt Whitman, such rhetorical questions are often asked--what am I? But in analyzing this same poetry, another question arises: who is this you that Whitman speaks to? Certainly many of Whitman's poems utilize the pronoun "you" traditionally, referring to an object or being directly defined within the poem (this is particularly true within the Drum-Taps poems.) Additionally, Whitman uses "you" in many places to address himself, thereby intensifying his poetic presence.
Whitman has clearly put large amounts of effort into "play[ing] the role of the persuader" (Greenspan 125).By using such direct conversational devices, Whitman was able to connect with his reader as no other poet did.Further, Whitman did not desire to reach only a readership which was small or in any way limited to the academic elite.This allowed Whitman's speaker to take on an all-knowing, omniscient persona, which in turn gave the addressee the role of a child or student.This style of "platform poetry" is marked most by its use of rhetorical questions, aimed directly at the reader (Hollins 91).In order for there to be an addressee, there must be an addressor speaking directly to that addressee.Further, by using the term addressee, we get a sense that there is a concrete aim for the speaker's words: a human, living reader.In addition to simply understanding "you" as the reader, however, it is necessary to define this particular, unique speaker-reader relationship with an effective term.Perhaps the closest literary term is that of "apostrophe." However, apostrophe is defined by M. Abrams as "a direct and explicit address either to an absent person or to an abstract or nonhuman entity" (182).Further, there is a tone to the speaker's words which give the reader the feeling of having inferior knowledge.Several lines actually refer to the addressee as "son," while others use metaphors of the teacher-student relationship ("Eleves, I salute you! / Continue your annotations, continue your questionings" (line 974-975)).