Archive for » November, 2009 «

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 | Author:

A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman

edited by David S. Reynolds (click on the image to go to the shop)


This book is part of a series “Historical Guides to American Authors” and starts with an introduction by the editor David S. Reynolds. He also contributes with a short biography of the poet.

This is followed by scholarly essays by well knows Whitmaniacs including Ed Folsom, which an average Whitman lover definitely did come across. In his essay he deals with Whitman’s stance on racism. Moreover, he specifically pinpoints places in Whitman’s poetry where he mentions or uses a metaphor to refer to black people. He focuses on poems “The Sleepers” and “Ethiopia Saluting the Colors” in his essay.

In the next essay, Jerome Loving writes about the Leaves as political poems which is definitely interesting to read because people not so often discuss these poems as political. Whitman was a great democrat and a patriot, and for someone who wants to deal with these topics, this is a must read. I would advise this part to be read together with the last essay “Whitman the Democrat” because both deal with similar but in many ways different notions. Politics and human rights are closely linked. One of the basic human rights is a right to express love. Killingsworth’s essay “Whitman and the Gay American Ethos” , as the title says looks at Whitman as a gay poet. The author finds examples of this in I Sing the Body Electric, Calamus clusters.

Roberta Tarbell speaks of links between the visual arts and Whitman. A large portion of the essay deals with architecture and technological advances in architecture which I did not find very interesting. On the other side of the medallion, the parts of the essays describing Whitman and love of photography and painting were really insightful. Worth a look. Tarbell finishes with Whitman’s influence on the coming artists.

One of the most useful thins I found in this book is definitely the illustrated chronology of Whitman’s life and career.

Category: 1855  | One Comment
Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 | Author:


This documentary consists of an Introduction, nine shorter parts (approx. 7-13 minutes long) sorted chronologically and a Credits section. The nine sections follow Whitman’s life from his early days in New York, through his difficulties with publishing Leaves of Grass and his Civil War experiences, all the way to his last editing attempts in the “Death-Bed Edition” of Leaves.

Personally, I liked the Slavery and the Coming Crisis section best. Whitman’s life in New Orleans and the influenc

es there are very well portrayed in this part of the documentary. I very much agree with Ed Folsom saying: “He sees slave auctions take place. And as he sees bodies of human beings for sale he is stunned by the brutality and the sheer physical force of the experience.” Although we did mention this in class, I was captured by the phrase sheer physical force which seems so Whitmanian. I could see myself there, alongside Whitman, being stunned by the awful practices

that were carried out. The archival images during this part of the documentary were really vivid and they contributed to this realistic feeling.

This documentary could be really useful not just for my project but for all of our final projects. It is well divided in thematic sections which deal with specific topic in Whitman’s career as a poet and his life. Since I haven’t been reading into literary critiques of the scholars, novelist, biographers and writers that contributed to this documentary, I am not entirely sure if there were many new ideas or thoughts expressed. Nonetheless, this could be a great resource for a multimedia project if any of the students decide to go in that direction.

Category: 1855  | One Comment
Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 | Author:


NOT heaving from my ribb’d breast only,
Not in sighs at night in rage dissatisfied with myself,
Not in those long-drawn, ill-supprest sighs,
Not in many an oath and promise broken,
Not in my wilful and savage soul’s volition,
Not in the subtle nourishment of the air,
Not in this beating and pounding at my temples and wrists,
Not in the curious systole and diastole within which will one day
Not in many a hungry wish told to the skies only,
Not in cries, laughter, defiances, thrown from me when alone far
in the wilds,
Not in husky pantings through clinch’d teeth,
Not in sounded and resounded words, chattering words, echoes,
dead words,
Not in the murmurs of my dreams while I sleep,
Nor the other murmurs of these incredible dreams of every day,
Nor in the limbs and senses of my body that take you and dismiss
you continually—not there,
Not in any or all of them O adhesiveness! O pulse of my life!
Need I that you exist and show yourself any more than in these


This poem first grabbed my attention with Whitman’s use of Not at the beginning of each line, and ending the poem with a line that starts with the powerful word Need. While reading it (and re-reading it numerous times) I stumbled upon a word which we mentioned several times in our class session. Adhesiveness is referred in this poem as the pulse of the poets life. Being that he did not know how to give name to his feelings he borrowed a word from phrenology denoting same-sex friendships.

I went to the Merriam-Webster’s Online dictionary and found the term adhesiveness which, of course, has to do more with adhesive tape than with same-sex love.

This is a very powerful poem in which Whitman shows his dissatisfaction with the American non-tolerant society and his difficulty to express his new-found way of loving people.

P.S. I am not quite sure why there isn’t a copy of the manuscript page of this poem in the Barrett Manuscripts. If anyone manages to find one, be sure to “link me”. Thanks.

Category: 1855  | Tags:  | 3 Comments
Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 | Author:

Josip“I saw the marriage of the trapper in the open air in the far-west . . . . the bride was a red girl,

Her father and his friends sat nearby crosslegged and dumbly smoking . . . . they

had moccasins to their feet and large thick blankets hanging from their


On a bank lounged the trapper . . . . he was dressed mostly in skins . . . . his luxuriant
beard and curls protected his neck,

One hand rested on his rifle . . . . the other hand held firmly the wrist of the red girl,

She had long eyelashes . . . . her head was bare . . . . her coarse straight locks
descended upon her voluptuous limbs and reached to her feet.

The runaway slave came to my house and stopped outside,

I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile,

Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsey and weak,

And went where he sat on a log, and led him in and assured him,

And brought water and filled a tub for his sweated body and bruised feet,

And gave him a room that entered from my own, and gave him some coarse clean

And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,

And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;

He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and passed north,

I had him sit next me at table . . . . my firelock leaned in the corner.”

Although there are many sections in the poem that are just breathtaking, I chose this passage from the 1855 version of “Leaves of Grass” as my favorite. Walt Whitman is, in my humble opinion, one of the few poets that succeeds in portraying the exact image to his readers. While reading this passage about the marriage of a trapper and a red girl and the story about the runaway slave, I was more than astonished by the scenes that seemed to happen right in front of me.

At the time when the poem was written there were many talks and debates concerning tolerance, slavery, equality etc. These two scenes show Whitman’s stance on the matter, and very well draw a pretty precise sketch of my opinion on these antebellum problems.

I was positively overwhelmed with the amount of work we did during our first class period on the 31st. The introductory class was great and the high point was definitely reading the poem out loud, and holding the old green “Leaves of Grass” copy. Can’t wait for Saturday!

Category: 1855  | Tags:  | 3 Comments