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.

3 Responses to “Backward Glances Upon LoG”

  1. jessicaa Says:
    Avatar of jessicaa

    I’d have to say that I agree with on your comment about an author’s intent. If a piece of artwork’s intent is analyzed in a certain light, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the artist was false in describing his intentions in a different way. Many artists may intend for their work to be portrayed one way, and it is accepted in another. That however doesnt change the intent. It is great to see that what Whitman intended does come through quite clearly in his work.

  2. bmzreece Says:
    Avatar of bmzreece

    “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.”

    Funny how in his earliest works he wants to be all things to all people…and then he goes and does it throughout the course of his life[!], taking on all kinds of identities in his poetry to express various views, but maintaining his integrity and genuineness through it all.

  3. jens Says:
    Avatar of jens

    I think that you are right. Whitman was a fantastic poet as almost everyone will agree on. He tried to please everyone with everything that he did in life and with his poems. He did everyone that he could to show his beliefs and what he wanted in life and at the same time tried to convey that people needed to be their own person also.

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