Backward Glances Upon LoG

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For this Thursday’s class we finished up the deathbed edition of Leaves by reading Whitman’s Backward Glances Over Travel’d Roads. And for me the work was a final reminder of why Whitman eventually received the title “America’s Poet”. Backward Glances was a statement of the author’s intent, and I know (at least in the case of art history; i’m not sure about authors and poets) that we aren’t supposed to take the creator’s (of the work) intent at face value, but I always have listened to and respected the statements artist’s make about their own work. I figure who better to know what they intented than the artist’s themselves. I’m a self taught painter and I’d be happy to honestly tell anyone the meaning behind any work I’ve created, so I assume other artists do so also; and I believe Walt was no exception; his intentions ring true to me and seem to fit with what I’ve determined to be his intentions throughout the course.

One major aspect of Whitman’s style that made him so unique, even now,and especially in the early 19th century is the fact that he began, worked on, developed and perfected the same work throughout his career. yes, he took out and added different poems and the poems in and of themselves are individual works, but for the majority of his career Whitman’s major work was the collection, Leaves of Grass. This approach to writing worked perfectly for what Whitman says throughout Backward Glances was his reason for writing LoG: to put his own voice fully on the record. And I think if he had done separate works on various subjects it wouldn’t have had quite the same impact that revising a single collection throughout his career does.

Whitman’s other goal, so to speak, was to reach his audience. He wanted the youth of his time to develop a voice, to form opinions about politics, race, religion, sexuality and daily life in general; he wanted the people to appreciate their time, but not fear the end. He wanted to remind the public that inspiration can be gleaned from Nature. And I’d like to think he reached some people of the 19th century and I’d venture to say he’s definitely reached generations since. By using his own voice and life as the journey in Leaves of Grass, readers learned how to remove the stigma from their own bodies, how to appreciate other cultures (even though he never visited them), how to take the time to find beauty in nature, and of the progress made by and the horrors of war. Readers saw young idealistic Walt, politically active Walt, Nurse Walt, Nature poet Walt and a poet conscious of his own mortality hoping he left as grand a legacy as possible. And from all the subjects he wrote about and the many versions of himself within a single work that he presented to his audience (then and now) readers were able to develop their own opinions and ideas by using Whitman’s as a guide. He presented his single voice in life’s many stages.

Finally, Whitman writes at one point in Glances that he doesn’t believe that he could have written during any other time than the 19th century and maybe he’s right. One reason he was so full of ideas and opinions about so many things was because it was the inception of our country and there weren’t too many precedents to look upon for advice (Whitman tried to turn to Poe for inspiration, but didn’t like him much.), at least, not any Walt deemed good enough, so he felt the country needed an orator of sorts and made the attempt in a most effective and direct way: by inviting us along on his life’s journey. 

How can you not look on LoG as a modern approach to writing and poetry? I’m kind of disappointed that we don’t have a single voice to represent our generation. I guess the 60’s had that. And I guess with that advent of the internet and our love of television there are just too many opinion’s to go around. No one stands out because now we’ve got too many voices. So, I guess, cheers to Whitman for urging everyone to find their opinions and voice. It has worked pretty well throughout the years.

Erin M. for Nov. 15

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Mannahatta vs. Broadway: Whitman’s Two Visions of New York and his life

In this week’s reading of the First Annex, the poems Mannahatta and Broadway stood out to me. I think this was partially because Mannahatta was the poem I annotated for this Thursday.  :O) But, more so I chose these two poems because they detail such contrasting views of New York City. “Mannahatta” chronicles NY before it was a bustling metropolis and “Broadway” deplicts the glitz and glamour of the city after its development. Also, on a deeper level, and within the context of the deathbed edition of Leaves,  I see these poems as metaphors for Whitman’s life.

Starting with “Broadway” Whitman depicts the high energy and youth of the city. We can see the flurry of people and all of their emotions flowing with all the hustle and bustle of life. He writes:

What hurrying human tides, or day or night! What passions, winnings, losses, ardors, swim thy waters!

What whirls of evils, bliss and sorrow, stem thee!

What curious questioning glances—glints of love!

Leer, envy, scorn, contempt, hope, aspiration!

Thou portal—thou arena—thou of the myriad long drawn lines and groups! (p624 lines 1-6)

These lines recall not only the energy and spirit of the city, but also the energy of the descriptions of nature and nature and the body in “Song of Myself” or Whitman’s inspirational descriptions in poems like “America” and “Pioneers” He goes on to say basically, if these walls could talk in line 7 and in the final lines goes on to describe the life he believes the rich live in the city, with their beautiful hotels and store windows. I think this life is one that Walt would have embraced if he had the means, however he also saw the richness and beauty in the simple, everyday and natural world and embraced that with the same excitement with which he embraces broadway here. Unfortunately, he did die poor and never got to experience the rich life first hand, but reveled in it, nonetheless through observation. So, Broadway for me captures Walt’s youthful spirit and reflects his passion in early writings like “Song”, but for me “Mannahatta” is a quieter poem that seems to depict the life of mature Whitman.

“Mannahatta” is a poem that yearns for the return to a simpler Manhattan, a Manhattan that was lush with plant life and wildlife where the only rush was the rush of sea waves, not the progress of crowds and industry. As I said in my annotation, “Mannahatta” was the indigenous name for Manhattan given by the Native Americans; it means “land of many hills”. And Whitman seems to be aching for a return to the time when Mannahattan life was that simple since he italicized the poems final line “A rocky founded island—shores wherever gayly dash the coming, going , hurrying sea waves (Whitman line 3).  I could see an aging Whitman writing this poem. He can no longer participate in the activities of the city, so instead he wants the quiet times when staring at the ocean was all that was required to bring joy.

I reversed the order of these poems in order to present them in terms of Walt’s life from youth to death. But, you can also view them in the order in which they are presented here. I wrote about “Mannahatta” as an ending, but maybe Walt wrote it so his life would start over, metaphorically. He is about 70 years old here and perhaps he thought. if I capture the spirit of the start of New York, I can start over a bit myself! and “Broadway” could still represent his youthful side. We’ll never know, but I like to view the poem both ways!

My Visit to the Walt Whitman House and Tomb

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Today I visited Walt Whitman’s Tomb and house with my dad. We went to the tomb first and I was amazed how strudy the little mausoleum was! And because of the bricks in the ground and tree limbs (not very wheelchair friendly) I couldn’t get close to the tomb to peek in, but my dad told me that the names of Walt’s family members were still visible on their tombs after all these years, so I thought that was pretty cool! Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the inside of the tomb because my dad couldn’t figure out how my cell phone camera worked. Even when I set it up and said press this button, he still press the wrong one haha. But I took pictures of what I could get to myself and will post them below.   I also really liked the tree beside the tomb with all the cravings. I didn’t go with you guys on Saturday, so I missed the tour. Does anyone know if the cravings on the tree are oyher authors, or fans of Whitman or something?? I couldn’t find a plaque or anything about the tree at the site. The tree reminded me of a tree we saw when I went to Ireland with Rutgers. We visited Lady Gregory’s house, who was a patron of Irish poets and a friend of Yeats, Joyce and George Bernard Shaw (and other poets and writr/artists) and on her property she had what she called an autograph tree where all the authors who had come to visit her throughout her life craved their intials or whatever they wanted as their autograph. It was pretty cool to see, so I figured maybe the tree by Walt’s tomb was a similar thing. If anyone knows, let me know. I’m just curious. I felt very peaceful visiting Whitman’s tomb. It felt like something we should do since we have been studying him all semester. And it seemed fitting that his tomb across from a little pond that’s in the cemetary. Reminds us of Timber Creek. Also, I don’t know if some of you left them when you visited on Saturday, but there were flowers by his grave marker that seemed pretty fresh. Some were colored daisies. And I thought how nice they looked there and how Walt would have liked them. I was definitely glad that I went to see his tomb. Welearned that it cost 4,000 dollars then to build that would probably be 50k today, i don’t know. It’s just interresting to think about. I also felt a little proud to have visited Whitman’s grave. I guess it’s because we’ve been studying him, but he very easily could have returned home to New York to be buried and instead he chose Camden.

As for the house, I couldn’t get in because of their being steps and me haing my wheelchair of course (plus my chair wouldn’t have even fit through the door! it was so narrow!), so I basically just saw the outside of the house and couldn’t get a good picture of it from the car, but I did see it and get a feel for it. I kept thinking how narrow the staircase must have been inside. Enjoy the pictures and let me know if I missed anything interesting on the tour!

Okay apparently I cant post my pictures to the blog because I took them with my cell phone and emailed them to myself. But when I saved them to my desktop to upload them it says there is an error posting them. So, if you want to see my pics, I’ll have my cell with me on thursday in class. If anyone knows why I couldn’t upload them let me know.

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Erin M. for Nov. 5th

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The Process of  Goodbye

As his final farewell, Whitman leaves us with his collection Songs of Parting in which he chronicles his process of saying goodbye. Step 1…question death and accept it all in the same poem. In, As the Time Draws Nigh, Whitman writes, “A dread beyond of I know not what darkens me” (p 597 line 2). Whitman knows his sickness is upon him fully and suspects death is on the horizon for him, but he’s not yet afraid or deterred by it. He continues, “I shall go forth, I shall traverse the States awhile, but I can not tell whither or how long, Perhaps soon some day or night while I am singing my voice will suddenly cease” (line 3-5). Here he seems to have accepted his fate. But wait! There’s more! At line 6 he asks, O book, O chants! must all then amount to but this? Translation: Is this it? Is this all there is? But, in the end, his is Whitman after all, and he concludes, “O soul, we have positively appear’d-that is enough (line 8). This line reminds me and should remind all of us of  the following line from Song of Myself: “ I exist as I am, that is enough” Welcome to Walt’s acceptance of his death.

Step 2 in the good bye process is saying goodbye to others and Whitman accomplishes that in the poems “Years of the Modern”, “Ashes of Soldiers” and  “As at ThyPortals Also Death”. In “Years”, Whitman celebrates all that has occured in the world during his life and all that is yet to come. He writes, ” I see tremendous entrances and exits, new combinations, the soldiarity of races. . . I see Freedom, completely arm’d and victorious and very haughty, with Law on one side and Peace on the other. . . I see frontiers and boundaries of the old aristocracies broken,. . . I see this day the People beginning their landmarks, (all others give way;)” (597-98). He is celebrating a new America, one inspired by and powered by the youth and creativity. “Years of the Modern” is reminiscent of the poem “America” (you know that poem from the Levi’s commercial). ” Years” celebrates and says good bye to his vision of America: open, boundary-less, free that he yearned for in Song of Myself, sees inklings of now and hopes will come to fruition after he is gone. In “Ashes” Walt says goodbye one last time to all the soldiers that have battled and those he cared for and even the “horsemen” and “drummers” who were part of the battle. He gives one last salute and nod of respect to all those who were part of the civial war and by saying goodbye to those men I’d also venture that “Ashes ” is also one final nod to Lincoln (598-600). Finally, in “As at Thy Portals Also Death”, he remembers and honors his mother. As he thinks of his own impending death, he remembers her burial. ” To memories of my mother, to divine blending, maternity. . . To her, the ideal woman, practical, spiritual, of all the earth, life, love, to me the best,” (line 3 and 8).

And Step 3 of the goodbye process is leaving a legacy which Walt does in the poems “My Legacy” and with the final poem “So Long!” I think “My Legacy” is self explanatory so I don’t need to quote it here, but “So Long!” was a very moving poem that I’ve nicknamed “Song of Myself (Reprise)”. What Walt sang of in “Song of Myself” he annouces as having been accomplished in “So Long!”. He invites his audience to join him one last time; “While my pleasure is yet at the full I whisper So Long! And take the young woman’s hand and the young man’s hand for the last time” (line 13).  He continues announcing  that justice, liberty, equality and candor are all justified and have become important to the American people (lines 15-18) and urges us all to live our lives vehemently, boldly and joyfully. He reminds us of the importance of comraderie and turns toward a single comrade during his last moments (p 611 lines 53-61) and finally writes words that could be addressed to either his audience or his comrade at his bedside. In closing, Whitman writes:

Dear friend whoever you are take this kiss,

I give it especially to you, do not forget me,

I feel like one who has done work for the day to retire awhile . . .

Remember my words, I may again return, I love you, I depart from materials,

I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead (lines 64-66 and 69-71).

Songs of Parting is a beautiful collection that chronicle Whitman’s death and memories. With this collection Walt eases us and himself into the process of death and shows us the proper way to say goodbye to everything atimate and inatimate that we loved. And Whitman would be proud to know that he hasn’t been forgotten, far from it as we learned from our image glosses. Whitman reached his audience despite the fact he believed the opposite. And I hope that some day we do have some form of the peacful, free, accepting America Whitman saw the start of and that I still see inklings of today. I hope it come to full fruition someday. Farwell, Mr. Whitman.

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