Walt Whitman longed to be an animal. “They are so placid and self-contain’d,” he argued. He found a lot of qualities that make animals superior to human beings.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another…
Poetry is not to be taken literally. Whitman was not glorifying animals really. He was just using them to highlight our own pathetic condition. Whitman’s original religion, Christianity, laid much emphasis on man’s sinfulness. Christianity believes that man is an evil creature unless redeemed by Jesus Christ. Christianity instils a terrible sense of sinfulness in the soul of the believers. So ‘good’ Christians are condemned “to lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins.”
But all that weeping has produced no visible effect on the human soul. That’s the real problem. If people really felt sorry for their sins, they would liberate themselves from the sins. What’s the use if you beat your chest any number of times before your god and then come out and beat the hell out of other people? Such religion is absolutely meaningless. That’s why it made Whitman sick.
Whitman lived in the 19th century. The situation has only become worse after his death. What people do in the name of religion today is far more disgusting than in Whitman’s time. Any thinking man is left wondering why people still continue to put their trust in god(s) and yet remain worse than animals at heart.