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					Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

            American Literature I
                      11/22/2004
                Cecilia H. C. Liu
                  Outline
   Introduction: Whitman and Leaves of Grass
   Whitman’s Song of Myself
   Whitman’s Portrays of Slavery in Song of
    Myself (Critic’s comments)
   Whitman’s There Was a Child Went Forth
   Suggestive Readings
   Works Cited
    Whitman and Leaves of Grass
    Walt Whitman is one of the 1st generation of
     Americans who were born in the newly formed US
     and grew up in the stable existence of the new country.
    One of the haziest periods of Whitman’s life is the
     occurrence of the Civil War, when Whitman encountered
     casualties of the war. During this time, he visited
     wounded soldiers who moved to New York hospitals,
     and wrote about them in "City Photographs" published in
     1862.
    During the time of his hospital service, Whitman wrote
     about the war experience, but not the aftereffects, such
     as the moonlight illuminating the dead on the battlefields,
     the churches turned into hospitals, wound dressing,
     encountering with a dead enemy in a coffin, the trauma
     of battle nightmares for soldiers who returned home.
Whitman and Leaves of Grass (2)
   Whitman paid for the production of the 1st edition of his book
    and had only 795 copies printed. The book appeared on the 4th
    of July, as a representation of literary Independence Day.
   Whitman's book was an extraordinary accomplishment: after
    trying for over a decade to address in journalism and fiction the
    social issues (such as education, temperance, slavery,
    prostitution, immigration, democratic representation) that
    challenged the new nation).
    Whitman expresses with the identification of a new American
    democratic attitude, that would make up the diversity of the
    country in a vast, single, unified identity.
   "Do I contradict myself?" was a question Whitman asked
    confidently toward the end of the long poem "Song of Myself":
    "Very well then . . . . I contradict myself; / I am large . . . . I
    contain multitudes” Other Passages
    Whitman & Leaves of Grass (3)
   His work echoed with the language of the
    American urban working class and many
    corners of the 19th century culture, giving
    presentations in the nation's politics, its
    music, its new technologies, its
    fascination with science, and its
    evolving pride in an American language
    that formed as a tongue distinct from
    British English.
   It is clear now the author of Leaves of
    Grass is Whitman, but Whitman did not
    put his name on the title page until the
    1876 "Author's Edition" of the book.
Whitman & His Influences
   Beyond poetry, Whitman has had an extensive
    and unpredictable impact on fiction, film,
    architecture, music, painting, dance, and other
    arts.
   Whitman has enjoyed great international renown.
    Whitman’s importance not only presents from his
    literary qualities but also his standing as a
    prophet of liberty and revolution, since he
    served as a major icon for socialists and
    communists, who fulfilled promise of democracy.
    Whitman’s Song of Myself
   He shows suspicions of classrooms, with "Song of
    Myself" generated by a question a child would always
    ask, "What is the grass?" was defined in the 1st section.
   In addition, the term of grass is one of the focus
    within the poem as he spends the rest of the poem with
    his discoveries of those seemingly simple, the cosmos
    in himself.
   By the mid-1840s, Whitman began to show awareness
    of the cultural resources of New York City, and began
    dedicating himself to journalism. For Whitman, serving
    the public was to frame issues in accordance with
    working class interests, which is usually the
    white’s interests.
Whitman’s Song of Myself (2)
   Whitman dreaded slave labor as a "black tide"
    that could overwhelm white workingmen. He
    believes that slavery should not be allowed into
    the new western territories.
   Periodically, Whitman expressed outrage at
    practices that furthered slavery itself: for
    example, he was incensed at laws that made
    possible the importation of slaves by way of
    Brazil. Like Lincoln, he consistently opposed
    slavery and its further extension, even while he
    knew (again like Lincoln) that the more extreme
    abolitionists threatened the Union itself.
Whitman’s “There Was a Child Went Forth”

   Walt Whitman wrote more frequently about
    educational issues and always retained an interest
    in how knowledge is acquired.
   One of the poems in his first edition of Leaves of
    Grass, eventually called "There Was a Child Went
    Forth," could be read as a statement of Whitman's
    educational philosophy.
   He celebrates unrestricted extracurricular learning,
    and shows openness to experience and ideas that
    would allow for endless absorption of variety and
    difference, which was the kind of education he
    particularly valued.
Other Topics Whitman Addresses
   Whitman deals a lot about topics within Slavery,
    especially passages in Song of Myself, “The
    Sleepers,” and “I Sing.”
   He also deals with Civil War, in Drum Taps,
    sex, in Calamus and Children of Adam, and the
    sea, in Sea-Drift.
   Death is also mentioned quite a bit for Whitman,
    in his Drum Taps, with passages of the death of
    soldiers.
Other Examples
   New voice spoke confidently of union at a time
    of incredible division and tension in the
    culture, and it spoke with the assurance of one
    for whom everything could be celebrated as
    part of itself: "What is commonest and
    cheapest and nearest and easiest is Me"
    (Section 14).
   This represents the new American spirit that
    Whitman intends to portrays.
Walt Whitman Images
Whitman’s Song of Myself (3)

    "Song of Myself" portrays Whitman's poetic
     birth and the journey into knowing launched
     by that "awakening."
    However, the "I" who speaks is not alone,
     since he has included the camerado, "you,"
     addressed in the poem's second line, which
     is the reader, placed on shared ground with
     the poet throughout the journey.
Whitman’s Song of Myself (4)
   The poem opens with the representation of the poet
    "observing a spear of summer grass" and extending an
    invitation to his soul, clearly prepares him for the soul's visit
    of section 5, a section that dramatizes the transfiguring
    event, launching the poet on his lifelong quest. Ex: section
    1 and 2.
   Awakening in section 5 prepared the poet for new
    knowledge, as he proceeds on the journey, and extends
    through section 32, where leads the poet to more subjects
    and themes addressed in Leaves of Grass.
Whitman’s Song of Myself
   “Permit to speak at every hazard, / Nature
    without check with original energy" (Section 1).
   Leaving "[c]reeds and schools" behind, he goes
    "to the bank by the wood to become
    undisguised and naked" (Sections 1 and 2).
   He presents himself (section 13) as the
    "caresser of life wherever moving . . . Absorbing
    all to myself and for this song."
Whitman’s Song of Myself (5)
   After the grass imagery in section 6, Whitman
    moves to "en-masse," in 7-16.
   The speaker, Whitman reveals, in forms of
    Whitman himself, American, roaming the
    continent, celebrating the scenes of ordinary life.
    Example: Section 13
   Then, such movement rises in a crescendo to the
    extended catalogue of section 15, with exuberant
    snapshots of American types and scenes.
Whitman’s Song of Myself (6)
   In sections 18-24, the poet collapses traditional
    discriminations, and celebrates "conquer'd and slain
    persons" (section 18) along with victors, the "righteous"
    the "wicked"—and extends his embrace to include
    outcasts and outlaws.
   However, his focuses on the equality of body and soul
    and ways of rescuing the body from its inferior status.
   He turns to himself and his own, and presents in section
    24 a nude portrait of himself, with a metaphoric catalogue.
Whitman’s Song of Myself (7)
   In sections 18-32, the poet celebrates the erotic dimension
    of all the senses, but he turns to a miraculous touch in
    section 28.
   In section 33, it begins with higher affirmations of the 2nd
    part of the journey. The poet feels no longer bound by the
    ties of space and time, but feels that he is able to soar
    like a meteor out into space.
   Hence, this peak of exaltation in section 33 switches to a
    tone to its opposite as the poet identifies with the rejected,
    suggests that he has moved obscurely beyond the
    knowledge of his previous phase in sections 17-20.
Whitman’s Song of Myself
   "Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new
    identity?“ (Section 28).
   "Space and Time! now I see it is true, what I guess'd at,
    /[ . . . ] when I loaf'd on the grass.“ (Section 33).
   "I am the man, I suffer'd, I was there." He becomes the
    "old-faced infants and the lifted sick," the mother
    "condemned for a witch," "the hounded slave.“ (Section
    33).
   : "I discover myself on the verge of a usual
    mistake.“ (Section 38).
Whitman’s Song of Myself (8)
   Section 38 opens with strong rejection of the role
    of beggar he has assumed resets the direction for
    the poet on his journey. This stage, in which the
    poet is confident in his transcendent power,
    extends through the closing sections, 38-49.
   In section 43 the poet affirms all religious faiths,
    and in section 44 he celebrates his place in
    evolutionary theory: both religion and science
    contain the seeds that provide the source for
    his supreme power.
Whitman’s Song of Myself (9)
   In section 50 the poet seems to have
    emerged from a trance-like state, similar to
    what he experienced in section 5
   The "it" could refer to the transcendent
    meaning of Whitman’s experience on his
    dream-like journey. Example
   Whitman addresses "brothers and sisters"
    first evoked in section 5, and includes a
    word that could convey some idea of the
    transcendent meaning on his journey. Ex
Whitman’s Song of Myself
   "Wrench'd and sweaty--calm and cool then my
    body becomes, / I sleep--I sleep long." Coming
    out of his deep sleep, the poet stammers almost
    incoherently: "I do not know it . . . it is a word
    unsaid, / It is not in any dictionary, utterance,
    symbol" (Section 50).
   Something it swings on more than the earth I
    swing on, / To it the creation is the friend whose
    embracing awakes me" (Section 50).
   "It is not chaos or death--it is form, union, plan--
    it is eternal life--it is Happiness." (Section 50).
Whitman’s Song of Myself (9)
   As the In the last two sections (51-52), Whitman
    addresses the idea of camerado from the
    beginning, "you," once more.
   Whitman does not deny but dismisses his
    "contradictions, (see more), and describes
    himself "not a bit tamed,“and
    "untranslatable," His journey is over, he
    prepares for departure,as he return “to the dirt
    to grow from the grass", and says humorously,
    "If you want me again look for me under
    your boot-soles."
Whitman’s Song of Myself

   “I am large, I contain multitudes” (Section 50).
   On beginning his journey (section 1) he
    promised he would "permit to speak at every
    hazard, / Nature without check with original
    energy."
   At the end, the poet admonishes his readers to
    "keep encouraged" and continue their search for
    him, promising: "I stop somewhere waiting for
    you" (Section 52).
Portrayals of Slavery in Song of Myself

   In section 10, Whitman
    addresses the
    runaway slave, and
    reminds us is the
    tremendous need for
    grammar in this world,
    the tremendous need
    for structural provisions
    unattached to particular
    persons, and
    responsive to all
    analogous persons.
Portrayals of Slavery in Song of Myself
   Whitman portrays the African
    American in a sort of figure
    that one could identify and
    sympathize, such as the
    hunted figure in section 33
    crucified by his pursuers
    and with whose passion the
    speaker identifies; and the
    figure of the black drayman in
    section 13, in command of his
    horses and himself.
Portrayals of Slavery in Song of Myself
   Another implication of the slaves could be seen in
    Section 11, the 28 bather, and in this passage
    Whitman encourages us to forget is the condition under
    which the slave is admitted, that they are trapped and
    unable to be let out, as one of its representative figures
    in his poetry.
   Indeed, these figures--the trapper and his bride, and the
    bathing young men--must be forgotten as well. Thus,
    this reveals a sort of tender forgetfulness—that the 28
    young men, bathers, do not realize that the woman had
    left her house and began to join in the dances and
    activities with them, touching them, because it is simply
    not registered as antecedence.
Suggestive Readings

   Calamus (Sex)
   Children of Adam (Sex)
   Drum Taps (Death and The Civil War)
   Sea Drift (How Whitman Portrays the Sea)
   Memories of President Lincoln and Drum
    Taps (Death and Memories in America)
   Specimen Days (Memories of Whitman)
                Works Cited
    The Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive. Ed.
    Folson and Kenneth M. Price.
    http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/whitman/
   Miller, James E., Jr. “Song of Myself.”Ed. J.R.
    LeMaster and Donald Kummings. Walt
    Whitman: An Encyclopedia. New York:
    Garland, 1998.
   Whitman and Slavery Critical Positions.
    http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/fdw/vol
    ume1/price/positions.html

				
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