Erin M. for September 22nd

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Whitman: A Man of Catalogs and Equality

I don’t know if Whitman was a type A personality or not, but one could assume logically that he wasn’t due to his love of loafing and spending lazy days lying in the grass observing people and the daily goings-on of society; however his penchant for making lists throughout the poems of the remainder of Leaves of Grass suggest otherwise. Take the catalog in the first poem of Leaves for example, it details the things that cause us anger and wonder and begins at the bottom of page 94 and lasts until the top of page 98. That is some amazing listing! Way to go Walt! But, I discovered throughout my reading that Whitman’s sometimes seemingly obsessive listing is not just a list of random items without connection; instead Whitman uses his lists as a vehicle to drive home a major theme in all of his writing (thus far anyway): unity and equality.

All of the individual items in Whitman’s catalog mentioned above are inherently equal simply because they are in the listed format, but all of the ideas come together at the end of the catalog and reveal the major theme of the poem (or sometimes a theme of a part of poem depending on if the poem veers to another topic, which with Whitman sometimes happens.). In the case of the catalog beginning on page 94 to 98, the concluding message that Whitman would like his readers to take home is that without the things that cause us anger and wonder guiding us we can not discover who we really are. He writes: “In them your themes and hints and provokers . . if not, the whole earth has no themes or hints or provokers, and never had” (Whitman 98). Whitman is reminding us not to discount the moments that make us angry and not to forget the moments that fill us with wonder or joy because it is against those memorable moments, good or bad, that we measure all of our other experiences  and form the “themes” that make us…us, that form our personality and ideals.

I chose to use this catalog as the example of how all of Whitman’s catalogs operate because he reveals his method to you right in the line I chose. The “them” could be the “things that cause anger and wonder” or the them could just as easily represent the catalogs themselves. Remember he says, ” in them your themes and hints and provokers…” he could be warning us to pay attention to the catalogs and that within each one there is something unique to take away. His catalogs operate like tapestries in a way. The items within the list are the single stitches of the fabric and each one is leading us the to full picture: the message we are supposed to retain.

Alot of Whitman’s messages are about the beauty and goodness of the self, or how doing good things is just as noteworthy as doing bad, or how no race, religion, or belief is better than any other. Everything is his vision stands on equal footing and as I read through Leaves of Grass and the other untitled poems in the volume, I found myself wanting to live in Whitman’s utopia. It seems like a nice, peaceful, relaxing place. I’m glad I am finally getting the chance to read Whitman and so far I’ve found nothing but beauty in his work.


4 Responses to “Erin M. for September 22nd”

  1. emilym Says:
    Avatar of emilym

    Thanks for working with his catalogs. As I read through his poems, I get a little impatient with his catalogs sometimes. I know that on a second, third, or fourth reading I could figure out what each item listed has to do with the others and what the entire catalog is doing for the poem. But on a first reading, this task doesn’t seem possible, so I’m glad you worked through his catalogs. Your patience and perseverance inspires me to work through difficult, or seemingly endless, meandering passages, to find a deeper meaning.

  2. jenny and walt Says:
    Avatar of jenny and walt

    I’m glad you think otherwise! In the poem I am assigned to explicate, I am becoming to think maybe Whitman was blood-type AB?? He seemed pretty versatile in the song of the red-wood tree, which I had to explicate :p Nature was dying…then breathing…then dying…then back to life! But nice way to connect blood-types with Whitman’s lines :)

  3. erinm Says:
    Avatar of erinm

    hey Emily,

    sorry im just replying to you now. i thought i did yesterday, but maybe it didn’t go through or something. Anyway, thank you so much for your compliments about my post, but honestly I chose to write about Whitman’s catalogs not only because they can sometimes be difficult, but because they are a part of Leaves that spoke to me. I wanted to figure out why such long catalogs were in Whitman’s poem and this post is just my take on what their purpose is. I do think they have more importance than most readers (even me)give them credit for most of the time. And I’m so glad my thoughts on their possible purpose helped you understand them a bit more and want to find your own deeper meaning in them.

  4. erinm Says:
    Avatar of erinm

    hi Jenny,

    Haha. When I said type A I didn’t mean type A as in blood type. I meant type A as in personality type. Sometimes people use the expression “type A personality” to describe highly organized people, or people who like to make lists (like Whitman’s long catalogs), so I was making a bit of a joke there, but calling Whitman “type A” because he’s seems to be a more laid back person, not someone who would make lists, but someone would go with the flow. Sorry if I confused you there.

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