Whitman’s poetry contains a profusion of images and it is truly perceived in almost any of his poems. Imagery means the use of images or pictures in words to describe ideas or situations. An image is something that can be perceived through one or more senses-sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, the sense of motion or the sense of heat or cold. Imagery is the pictorial quality of a literary work achieved through a collection of images. It evokes a complex of emotional suggestions and communicates mood, tone and meaning.
Whitman employs different types of imagery in his poems- and they are galore-in order to create the desired effect. All sorts of images crowd in his poems-images of the earth, the sea and the sky, night and day, hills, mountains and rivers, nature and animals, images of sex, energy and vitality. His long poems, like ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’ or ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’, seem to be made up of a number of brief descriptions. At a glance they seem chaotic as they flash past the eye in rapid succession. But in reality they have an implicit pattern. In the poem ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’ we see an abundance of images of the earth, the sky, the sea and all that, moving in quick succession.
Whitman’s images are multi-faceted; they function on more than one level. In all cases, he used images to carry the reader from the world of sensory perception to the world of thought in which he achieves some perspective. From the sensory he moves to the metaphysical level. The images are, of course, continually becoming symbols whose meanings fluctuate. The bird in ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’ is grief-stricken by the death of Lincoln, but it pours songs whose themes tally with the thoughts of the poet. The star symbolizes eternity. It is seen to be brightly glowing in the western sky, signifying the immorality of Lincoln’s memory and also the eternity of the soul.
Images of vitality and energy are scattered through the works of Whitman. Whitman’s sensibility and response to the visible world are expressed clearly through his images. He seems to be specially fascinated by the essential dynamics of life, by the objects that suggest energy and vitality. His sexual images or erotic images indicate his quest for vitality.
Grass is a recurring image in Whitman’s poetry. It represents democracy, individuality and kinship with all.
The image of the trinity suggests the unity in the universe. All objects of the heaven and the earth are conceived of as having formed a unity.
Whitman’s images are lively, vivid and impressive.