Tag Archives: Walt Whitman

Edward Everett Hale review of Leaves of Grass (1856)

 

Edward Everett Hale review of Leaves of Grass – North American Review, January 1856

 

posted here (PDF file above):

review of Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

reviewed by Edward Everett Hale

North American Review

January 1856

An excellent early review. Edward Everett Hale got Whitman – verily – as few critics at that point in time did.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2022

Walt Whitman’s New York

 

Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, in the farming community of West Hills, Long Island, in western Suffolk County. At the age of three, Whitman was moved to Brooklyn with his family, and it was there that he spent his childhood. While still in his teens, Whitman left the family home in Brooklyn, and spent some five years at several occupations at various locations on Long Island. He served as a school­teacher, and as writer, editor, and printer for newspapers. During this period he lived and worked in what are now the urban and suburban counties of Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk. At that time, however, this area was rural, with only small scattered villages.

While in his early twenties, Whitman returned to the city, living and working in both Manhattan and Brooklyn as writer, editor, and printer for various newspapers. This was to be his life for the next twenty years until the Civil War brought about his move to Washington, D.C. Probably his most famous post during this period-was his tenure as editor of the Brooklyn Eagle.

By the summer of 1855, Whitman had published the first edition of Leaves of Grass. A second edition appeared the following year, and, in 1860, a third edition. Whitman was forty-two years old and something of a local personage when, on June 8, 1861, the Brooklyn Standard published the first of an unsigned series of his articles to which the newspaper gave the title of Brooklyniana.” …

It is of interest, and useful, to review very briefly some of the major changes in geographical and governmental entities that have taken place since Whitman wrote this work. New York City then included only what are today the Borough of Manhattan and part of the Borough of the Bronx; and, in practice, when these articles were written, “New York City” or “Manhattan” meant lower Manhattan. Manhattan north of Forty-second Street was largely rural. When Whitman wrote these articles, Brooklyn was an independent city, consisting of what are today the Brooklyn Heights, downtown Brooklyn, South Brooklyn, and Williamsburg areas. Kings County—which today comprises New York City’s Borough of Brooklyn—was mostly rural, and, in addition to Brooklyn, contained other, independent communities such as Flatbush and Gravesend. What is today New York City’s Borough of Queens was also rural, with independent communities such as Jamaica and Flushing; and what is today suburban Nassau County did not even exist at that time; it was part of rural Queens County. Nassau County was formed later by splitting the original Queens County into two new counties.

Whitman, though a native of the New York area, loved it and wrote of it with the zeal and zest usually found only in those from elsewhere who have made New York their chosen home [italics added]. One of Whitman’s favorite pastimes was to stroll through the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, observing people, and making new friends. He became an enthusiastic devotee of the opera. And he also enjoyed the natural beauty to be found in the meadows and on the beaches of rural Long Island. In these very articles, Whitman writes with deep affection of both the urban Manhattan-Brooklyn area and of rural Long Island, which he preferred to call by its original Indian name of “Paumanok.”

Yet Whitman did not merely use the New York area for his own pleasure; he was active in civic life. Through his association with newspapers, he encouraged and participated in crusades for social and civic improvement. He fought municipal corruption, working to expose the graft that seemed to flourish continually in every municipal department and every municipal enterprise. He was in the forefront of those defending what has become New York City’s collection of beautiful parks, helping to fight off the real-estate speculators of the day. And hospitals were a special interest of Whitman’s; he made particular efforts to publicize the services and needs of worthy hospitals.

All these activities are, of course, generally of the conventional “good government” variety—but some of Whitman’s other civic views were less conventional. He was a strong critic of the law-enforcement, judicial, and penal systems as they were applied against the outcasts of society such as the prostitutes. It appalled Whitman to see the prostitutes of the city abused by brutal police and sanctimonious politicians who themselves were notoriously corrupt. Whitman also was a sharp critic of the hypocrisy he found among the clergy of the city.

Political activity of his day centered upon three parties—the Democrats, the Republicans, and the “Know-Nothings,” more formally referred to as the Native American Party. The Democratic Party was split into two factions. The “Old Hunkers” were conservative Democrats, strongly pro-business, and pro-slavery. They were opposed within the party by progressive Democrats who were anti-slavery and who advocated greater social and economic democracy. Whitman was an active member of this latter faction, even serving as an official delegate to various Democratic Party conventions and gatherings.

Indeed, Whitman was a very active citizen, serving his city in a variety of ways. And it should be kept in mind that when Whitman wrote this work—articles dealing with Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island—he had spent his en­tire life in this region, excepting only a brief stay in New Orleans. Interestingly, his best journalism on the subject of New York regional history came just at the time that the approach of the Civil War already had begun to disrupt and transform the region and the entire nation. In regard to Whitman personally, it is perhaps ironic that, so soon after he sang the praises of the New York area in this work, he was destined to leave this region of his birth and youth.

Whitman went to the Washington, D.C., area in December of 1862 in search of a brother in the Union Army who had been reported as wounded in action. He found his brother, only slightly wounded, safe in one of the Union camps. Thereafter, Whitman turned to visiting the Washington hospitals, seeking out wounded soldiers from the New York area. Whitman was so affected by his experiences in Washington hospitals that he undertook volunteer, unpaid nursing service there. Remaining in Washington, Whitman accepted a clerkship in the Federal government, giving all his spare time to the hospitals and to his writing. He was to spend the next ten years in Washington, and his final twenty years in Camden, New Jersey, where he died on March 26, 1892, at the age of seventy-two.

Whitman’s New York years not only constituted his formative period but also comprised the greater part of his life. The first forty-two of Whitman’s seventy-two years were spent in the New York area. It was in this region that he formed his philosophy of life and art—in short, the ideas and the style that distinguish his writings. This work is tangible evidence of the deep affection with which Whitman regarded the New York area, and the significance he attached to its history and traditions.

Walt Whitman’s New York: From Manhattan to Montauk, edited by Henry M. Christman

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2022

new post; Pitirim A. Sorokin, “The Bard of Life (Walt Whitman 1819-1892)”

 

On my Sorokin site, I have a new post: an early article that the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin wrote about Walt Whitman, which I have translated from the original Russian.

Posted at

Sorokin, “The Bard of Life” (Walt Whitman 1819-1892)

 

— Roger W. Smith

it don’t exactly curve

 

… toward the end of his life, … [Walt] Whitman saw that baseball was beginning to reflect some unsettling cultural changes. … the game … seemed to be conforming to anti­democratic tendencies in the culture. One particular rule change symptomatic of the overall drift of the sport particularly bothered Whitman. [Horace] Traubel records Whitman’s concern in May 1889; Thomas Harned, a devoted friend, had come to see Walt after attending a baseball game, and Whitman jumped at the chance to talk about the state of the sport:

Tell me, Tom-I want to ask you a question: in base-ball is it the rule that the fellow who pitches the ball aims to pitch it in such a way the batter cannot hit it? Gives it a twist-what not-so it slides off, or won’t be struck fairly?

Harned affirmed that this indeed was the case, and Whitman’s response indicates that he still followed the game even if he was now too debilitated to attend: “Eh? That’s the modern rule then, is it? I thought something of the kind-I read the papers about it-it seemed to indicate that there” [Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, 5:145].

The rule that concerned Whitman has to do with the way the ball could be pitched. The original Knickerbocker rule forbade the throwing of the ball; instead, the ball had to be pitched underhand, smoothly, so that the batter could hit it. This rule had been refined over the years, first requiring that the hand not be raised above the hip, then requiring only that the hand pass below the hip as the ball was pitched, then only below the waist, then the shoulder (allowing for sidearm pitching). Originally, then, the pitcher’s function was simply to put the ball in play by allowing the batter to hit it; one player usually pitched all the games. But as the skills of the players became more refined, the pitcher’s role became more strategic. In 1884 the National League removed all restrictions on a pitcher’s delivery, and by 1887 batters could no longer call for high or low pitches. The curveball, which occasionally had been accomplished underhand-style in the 1870s, now became a requisite skill. Whitman, however, was not impressed with this new skill and saw the rule change as endemic of the deception and lack of openness he saw creeping everywhere into America; we can hear echoes of the anger and despair of Democratic Vistas in his response to Harned, “denounc[ing] the custom roundly,” as Traubel tells us:

The wolf, the snake, the cur, the sneak all seem entered into the mod­ern sportsman-though I ought not to say that, for a snake is a snake because he is born so, and man the snake for other reasons, it may be said.” And again he went over the catalogue-“! should call it everything that is damnable.”

Harned is described as “amused” at Whitman’s response, but Whitman seems in earnest. He has obviously had the matter on his mind for some time and has engaged in some lively debate about it: “I have made it a point to put the same question to several fellows lately. There certainly seems no doubt but that your version is right, for that is the version everyone gives me” (With Walt Whitman in Camden 5:145).

— Ed Folsom, Walt Whitman’s Native Representations (Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 46-47

 

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I was playing sandlot softball and baseball into my mid-50s. My hitting seemed to get better as I got older. I recall one pitcher though, Edward ______ — much younger than me, of course — on a playground in Queens whom I couldn’t hit. A fat pitch would come in slow, looked so tempting, I would swing, and the ball would break DOWN under my bat. Mightily swing and a miss. “I can never seem to hit you,” I said to Edward once. He laughed. “it’s always lights out for you?” he said.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

  November 2021

Robert G. Ingersoll, “Address at the Funeral of Walt Whitman”

 

Robert G. Ingersoll, ‘Address at the Funeral of Walt Whitman’

 

Posted here (downloadable PDF document above) is Robert G. Ingersoll’s eulogy for Walt Whitman, which was delivered on March 30, 1892 at Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey.

 

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Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899) was an American lawyer, writer, and orator. Known as “The Great Agnostic,” Ingersoll was a staunch advocate of free thought.

Ingersoll was a close friend of Walt Whitman. They had profound admiration for one another, as can be seen by anyone who reads Horace Traubel’s multivolume work With Walt Whitman in Camden. “It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is ‘Leaves of Grass’ … He lives, embodies, the individuality, I preach. I see in Bob [Ingersoll] the noblest specimen–American-flavored–pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light,” Whitman told Traubel.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2021

a disservice to Walt Whitman

 

Walt Whitman – NY Times 9-14-2020

Whitman to John Addington Symonds

 

re:

“Walt Whitman, Poet of a Contradictory America: During the Civil War era, the writer emerged as an emblem of the country’s dissonance. Now, in the midst of another all-consuming national crisis, his work feels uncannily relevant.”

By Jesse Green

The New York Times

September. 14, 2020

 

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This article includes “pictures, the essay’s writer and T’s editors chose some of their favorite passages of Walt Whitman’s poetry — excerpted below as he published them in the 1891-92 edition of “Leaves of Grass” — which the photographer, stylist and models referenced to inspire the images, taken on July 24, 2020, at St. Josaphat’s Monastery in Glen Cove, N.Y.”

Take a look for yourself to see how tawdry and pitiful this is.

 

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The following are excerpts from the article, by Jesse Green, the Times’s co-chief theater critic. With thoughts/comments by me in ALL CAPS.

The 13-part newspaper series on manly health he wrote a few years earlier, in 1858, under the pseudonym Mose Velsor, is full of epigrammatic dictums — “the beard is a great sanitary protection to the throat” and “we have spoken against the use of the potato” — but for long passages comes off as unintentional gay porn.

Of course, so do long passages of his signed work.

GAY PORN? COME ON! I HAVE READ THE ENTIRE 1858 NEWSPAPER SERIES BY WHITMAN REFERRED TO. (IT WAS RECENTLY PUBLISHED IN BOOK FORM AS Manly Health and Training.) GREEN DELIBERATELY MISCHARACTERIZES THIS WORK OR ITS INTENTION.

 

Six years before the war, in June 1855, Whitman published the first edition of “Leaves of Grass,” a book of poems he would prune and shape, like a massive topiary, until his death in 1892 at the age of 72. That he believed it to be not just his masterpiece but America’s, and that America somehow came to agree, seems so wildly unlikely when you actually read it that the reading throws you into a time warp. Are we in classical Greece, as the antique cadences and references sometimes suggest? Adamic Eden? The Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury? Pre-Columbian America? Or tonight on Grindr? (Polar Bear, highly verbal, Masc4Masc.) Not many other masterpieces of the 19th century fill their pages with kisses among “camerados,” testicular gropes (“the sensitive, orbic, underlapp’d brothers”), hydrothermal ejaculations (“the pent-up rivers of myself”) and the scent of armpits “finer than prayer.” Even in the unlikely event that Whitman merely imagined such things, they have the authenticity of aspiration. You can see it in the portrait he chose for the frontispiece of the first edition: an engraving of the author with his hips, hat and eyebrows all cocked, with his lanky frame in a louche slouch that any gay man in Brooklyn Heights today (I live a quarter-mile from the printing house where it was typeset) would take as a welcome, a come-on, a song of himself.

TOTALLY UNJUSTIFIED INSINUATIONS/INFERENCES, “CRITICAL OBSERVATIONS” ABOUT LEAVES OF GRASS. THE REFERENCE TO ‘ANTIQUE CADENCES” SHOWS IGNORANCE. WHITMAN WANTED, CHOSE DELIBERATELY, TO AVOID ALL ECHOES OF CLASSICAL LITERATURE.

 

It is only as an icon of queerness that Whitman’s legacy is sometimes denied, as if gay people, rooting through the crypts of time, had dug up the wrong body. For decades, heterosexual critics commonly treated the homoerotic passages as metaphor or, like Harold Bloom, asserted that all those loving comrades were actually just platonic friends. (Bloom called Whitman’s sexuality “onanistic.”) And though it’s true (as Justin Kaplan tells us in “Walt Whitman: A Life,” his 1980 biography) that in old age the poet casually, even cruelly, dismissed an anguished acolyte’s plea to acknowledge the actual sex shadowing the metaphysical sex in his work — “morbid inferences,” he answered in an 1890 letter, “disavow’d” and “damnable” — that hasn’t stopped gay men since liberation from celebrating the truth for what it is and making Walt their poster boy. After all, how metaphysical can an erection be? (In the preface to the 1856 edition of “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman pledges to restore the “desires, lusty animations, organs, acts” that had been “driven to skulk out of literature with whatever belongs to them.”) Whether or not he sired six children, as he sometimes claimed, though none are known to have come knocking in search of a handout or benediction, they would not be dispositive anyway: Most homophile men have until recently also had wives and children — and Whitman called at least one of his likely young lovers “dear son.”

RE WHITMAN AS AN ICON OF QUEERNESS, SEE MY COMMENTS BELOW.

RE “In old age the poet casually, even cruelly, dismissed an anguished acolyte’s plea,” [ITALICS ADDED], THE LETTER OF WHITMAN TO AN ENGLISH ACOLYTE (JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS) IS PRESERVED IN DRAFT FORM — I.E., A DRAFT BY WHITMAN. SYMONDS’S LETTER (I.E., FROM WHITMAN TO HIM) HAS NOT BEEN PRESERVED APPARENTLY. (IT HAS NOT BEEN PUBLISHED.) I HAVE POSTED HERE (ABOVE) AS A WORD DOCUMENT MY TRANSCRIPTION OF WHITMAN’S DRAFT. TO CALL THE LETTER OR ITS TONE CRUEL AND TO SAY THAT IT AMOUNTED TO CASUAL DISMISSAL IS OVERREACH — TO SAY NOTHING OF BEING INACCURATE.

GREEN DID NOT STUDY WHITMAN’S DRAFT LETTER CLOSELY. HE LEARNED ABOUT IT FROM JUSTIN KAPLAN’S BIOGRAPHY OF WHITMAN. KAPLAN STATES THAT WHITMAN’S LETTER (DRAFT OF SAME) TO SYMONDS WAS “CALCULATINGLY CASUAL,” WHICH IS NOT THE SAME AS CASUAL. IN FACT, WHILE WHITMAN DID TRY TO KEEP THE TONE MEASURED, IT IS OBVIOUS HOW CAREFULLY HE DRAFTED THE REPLY. WHITMAN, IN WRITING TO SYMONDS, CLEARLY WAS ON THE SPOT, FELT DEFENSIVE. HE WRITES WITH RESERVE AND ISSUES A FIRM DENIAL. NOTHING LESS AND NOTHING MORE.

 

What he isn’t, at least at the time he went on his milk diet, nor during the years when he produced the first editions of “Leaves of Grass,” is amatively mature. “The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious,” he admits in the same poem. “Many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet never told them a word.” Despite their enthusiastic (and unquestionably transporting) wide-world embraces, these early writings often suggest high school aesthetes pining in diaries for high school athletes. They want more from others than they dare say directly.

THIS IS PSYCHOBABBLE TRIVIALIZING THE WORK OF A GREAT POET (AMERICA’S GREATEST), AS IF HE WERE THE WRITER OF LYRICS TO POP SONGS OR PERHAPS GRAPHIC NOVELS.

 

… his need for the “comradeship and sometimes affection” of stevedores, farmhands and omnibus drivers begins to make sense when you recognize that unresolved split in him. Here was a nascent voice of the common man but also a mama’s boy, theater buff and opera freak who shared elderberry wine with Oscar Wilde. Wobbling like an adolescent between wanting to possess the other and be him, Whitman — and, because he represented America, America — did not yet know what destiny held or how to find it. In that way, his diet was spiritual: a means of annealing his body for the great work ahead.

MORE JEJUNE PSYCHOBABBLE.

 

Whitman embodied cognitive dissonance. His freethinking coexisted with a lifelong project of self-editing, literal and otherwise, in service not just to his art but his ambition. “Leaves of Grass” was no less ruthlessly pruned and reshaped over the decades than his own public persona; he could not have become The Good Gray Poet without sanding down his pervy edges in deference to prejudices he may or may not have outgrown himself. It remains impossible to say whether his denial of gay affairs, like his denial of full personhood for Black and Indigenous people, was unexamined prejudice or savvy self-promotion.

“COGNITIVE DISSONANCE” … “PERVY EDGES”: MORE PSYCHOBABBLE AND DEMEANING WITH CANT.

 

How different he sounds from his contemporaries, even American ones, except for Emily Dickinson, whose similarly pioneering and proto-queer work would not become widely known until after her death in 1886.

NOTE THE SNARKY, CONFIDENT ASSERTION THAT EMILY DICKENSON’S POETRY WAS “PROTO-QUEER.” THIS IS MORE CUTE GLIBNESS. SERIOUS LITERARY SCHOLARS HAVE RECENTLY WRITTEN ESSAYS INVESTIGATING WHETHER EMILY DICKINSON HAD LONGINGS FOR WOMEN AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEM. IT MAY BE TRUE. IS IT PROVEN?

 

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My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp Jr. – a highly literate and well-read person and a scholar in his own right, how many MDs and psychiatrists or therapists can this be said of? – made two significant observations to me about Whitman. First, that gays were very eager to claim him as one of them, and that this reflected something gays tend to do. Second, that he (Dr. Colp) felt that Whitman handled questions about his sexual orientation very well – meaning discretion, not disclosing more than he wished to – as Whitman’s way of dealing with such inquiries.

A comment (responding to the Times article) that was posted on the Times site yesterday reads as follows:

Samuel, Denver

Sept. 15

It’s not that anything this article says is wrong. It’s just that because of the lens the writer writes through (proud gay) and the contextual pictures (over-expensive clothing), there is nothing quite right here either. Whitman celebrated sexuality — all sexual desires and behaviors — and he celebrated freedom, including the freedom to NOT be defined by any particular bent of those sexual desires. This is the exact opposite of modern gay movements, which insist on the definition of the self by one’s sexual preference. This is why Whitman denounced “an anguished acolyte’s [John Addington Symonds, not named by Green] plea” – because the acolyte got it wrong and wanted to pigeon-hole a man whose manifesto was freedom.

Whitman’s poetry isn’t gay. It’s pan-sexual, free to ever cross borders and return back — completely free of being defined by the preference of the moment. This sort of freedom is almost entirely unknown today in a world where people want to loudly define themselves by all sorts of preferences, and do not seek or admire the freedom that comes with refusing to be defined by one definition and embracing a multitude of possibilities. That is what Whitman continually did: he included everything in his self-definition; he “contained multitudes.”

As for the pictures with the article . . . really? How tone-deaf can you be?

I completely agree with Samuel. I don’t care whatsoever whether Whitman was gay or not. I think he probably was gay. But there is no conclusive proof. And, anyway, as I just said, I don’t care.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 16, 2020

Walt Whitman creates a catalogue

 

Walt Whitman: Daybooks and Notebooks, edited by William White, Volume III, pg. 733 (New York University Press, 1978)

 

Interlink’ d, food-yielding lands!
Land of coal and iron! land of gold! land of cotton, sugar, rice! Land of wheat, beef, pork! land of wool and hemp! land of the
apple and the grape!
Land of the pastoral plains, the grass-fields of the world! land of
those sweet-air’d interminable plateaus!
Land of the herd, the garden, the healthy house of adobie! Lands where the north-west Columbia winds, and where the
south-west Colorado winds!
Land of the eastern Chesapeake! land of the Delaware!
Land of Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan!
Land of the Old Thirteen! Massachusetts land! land of Vermont
and Connecticut!
Land of the ocean shores! land of sierras and peaks!

— from Walt Whitman, “Starting from Paumanok”

 

excerpt from ‘Starting from Paumanok’

 

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Walt Whitman’s catalogues. Long lists. A stylistic feature of his poetry.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 2020

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

the beauty of Walt Whitman’s images

 

the beauty of Whitman’s images

 

This post is in the format of a 26-page essay (downloadable Word document above).

My essay is entitled “The Beauty of Walt Whitman’s Images.”

 

from the introduction:

I have become well acquainted with Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass through repeated readings — I have committed many lines to memory. From familiarity — and, I suppose one would say, the spiritual comfort Whitman’s poetry gives me — Leaves of Grass has become a sort of Bible for me.

Below is a compilation by me of striking, beautiful, brilliant — so original, and often unique — images that I have culled from Leaves of Grass. I think they prove that Whitman, who is deliberately and studiously non-literary — without affectation and without using common poetic tropes — constantly infuses his poetry with images of startling beauty. That’s the best way I know how to put it.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    June 2020

“Sing on! you gray-brown bird”

 

 

“Sing on! you gray-brown bird”

movement eight from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d: A Requiem for those we love

composed by Paul Hindemith.

text from Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name

Words and music fitting for our present time.

 

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Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird,
Sing from the swamps, the recesses, pour your chant from the
bushes,
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

Sing on dearest brother, warble your reedy song,
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

O liquid and free and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul—O wondrous singer!
You only I hear—yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart,)
Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me.

Now while I sat in the day and look’d forth,
In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and
the farmers preparing their crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and
forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds and the
storms,)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the
voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides, and I saw the ships how they
sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy
with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with
its meals and minutia of daily usages,
And the streets how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent
—lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the
rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of
death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the
hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the
dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me,
The gray-brown bird I know receiv’d us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held as if by their hands my comrades in the night,
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.

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“I will try to remain calm. I will try to concentrate my attention on the sound of the wind and the buzzing of the bees outside my window, the scent of the hoya blossom, … and the sight of the cherry trees in bloom.” — Ella Rutledge, March 30, 2020

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   April 2020