Tag Archives: Walt Whitman Song of the Broad-Axe

the poet (Walt Whitman)

 

 

Walt Whtiman, from ‘Song of the Broad Axe’

 

 

His shape arises!
Arrogant, masculine, naive, rowdyish,
Laugher, weeper, worker, idler, citizen, country-man,
Saunterer of woods, stander upon hills, summer swimmer in
rivers or by the sea,
Of pure American breed, of reckless health, his body perfect,
free from taint from top to toe, free forever from headache
and dyspepsia, clean-breathed,
Ample-limbed, a good feeder, weight a hundred and eighty
pounds, full-blooded, six feet high, forty Inches round the
breast and back,
Countenance sun-burnt, bearded, calm, unrefined,
Reminder of animals, meeter of savage and gentleman on equal
terms,
Attitudes lithe and erect, costume free, neck open, of slow
movement on foot,
Passer of his right arm round the shoulders of his friends,
companion of the street,
Persuader always of people to give him their sweetest touches,
and never their meanest,
A Manhattanese bred, fond of Brooklyn, fond of Broadway, fond
of the life of the wharves and the great ferries,
Enterer everywhere, welcomed everywhere, easily understood
after all,
Never offering others, always offering himself, corroborating his
phrenology,
Voluptuous, inhabitive, combative, conscientious, alimentive,
intuitive, of copious friendship, sublimity, firmness, self-
esteem, comparison, individuality, form, locality, eventuality,
Avowing by life, manners, works, to contribute illustrations of
results of The States,
Teacher of the unquenchable creed, namely, egotism,
Inviter of others continually henceforth to try their strength
against his.

 

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe” (1856 version)

 

 

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For a discussion of this passage — and of Whitman’s brilliant use of –er nouns, formed from adding suffixes to verbs — see James Perrin Warren, Walt Whitman’s Language Experiment (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990), pp. 56-57,

Note Whitman’s genius in creating his own “grammar” in which the repetition of these nouns functions to create what the Whitman scholar Gay Wilson Allen* (drawing upon the work of the Italian scholar Pasquale Jannaccone, in his La Poesìa di Walt Whitman e L’Evoluzione delle Forme Ritmìche) calls “grammatical and logical rime.”

 

*Gay Wilson Allen, Walt Whitman Handbook (Packard and Company, 1946), pg. 408

 

 

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My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp. Jr. said, exclaimed, to me once, that Walt Whitman was a wonderful, a marvelous, PERSON. How true. How much I would like to be able to say I partook of some of these personal qualities.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

house-building

The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places, laying them regular,
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises according as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers, the attitudes of the men, their curv’d limbs,
Bending, standing, astride the beams, driving in pins, holding on by posts and braces,
The hook’d arm over the plate, the other arm wielding the axe,
The floor-men forcing the planks close to be nail’d,
Their postures bringing their weapons downward on the bearers,
The echoes resounding through the vacant building;
The huge storehouse carried up in the city well under way,
The six framing-men, two in the middle and two at each end,
carefully bearing on their shoulders a heavy stick for a
cross-beam,
The crowded line of masons with trowels in their right hands
rapidly laying the long side-wall, two hundred feet from front to rear,
The flexible rise and fall of backs, the continual click of the trowels striking the bricks,
The bricks one after another each laid so workmanlike in its place, and set with a knock of the trowel-handle,
The piles of materials, the mortar on the mortar-boards, and the steady replenishing by the hod-men;

 

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe”

 

 

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As I told my students when I was teaching at St. John’s University, Walt Whitman the poet used the simplest words, images, and tropes he could find. He built his poems out of all-original materials that were, so to speak, close at hand (sort of like a bird using twigs on the ground to build a nest) — nothing was “literary” or derived.

Here we see minute observation.

The particular made universal. The concrete, the here and now, timeless.

Wonderful.

Whitman had a genius for using so called deverbal nouns, as is explained by James Perrin Warren in a fascinating book I have been reading: Walt Whitman’s Language Experiment (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990).

 

 

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Walt Whitman’s father, Walter Whitman, was a carpenter and house builder. Whitman was living in Brooklyn when Leaves of Grass was first published. His father was making a living then as a house builder. It was there that Ralph Waldo Emerson called in the year 1855 upon the poet, who in the frontispiece to the first edition of Leaves of Grass was pictured as a common working man, a Christlike carpenter-poet.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 2018