Erin M. for Sept. 29th

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Whitman Confronts Life Versus Death in “Scented Herbage of My Breast

So, this week was the first week where I had trouble coming up with something to write about. That is, until I read Whitman’s poem “Scented Herbage of My Breast.” After reading it I wanted to write about it. With this work he again confronts the role of the poet (remember in the intro to Leaves where we discovered that for Whitman the poet equals the orator of America); he also pits life against death in this work and in my opinion reaches an unexpected conclusion.

In the opening of the poem, Whitman creates a beautiful image of the poet as its own muse. He believes here that his source of inspiration lies within him, literally and that the inspiration will continue to bloom from him year after year. He also, for the first time that I recall, faces the idea of his work becoming known by an audience; he doesn’t know if his poetry will be discovered, but hopes it will. He writes:

Scented herbage of my breast, Leaves from you I glean, I write, to be perused best afterwards,

Tomb-Leaves, body leaves growing up above me above death,

Perrenial roots, tall leaves, O winter shall not freeze you delicate leaves,

Every year you shall bloom again, out from where you retired you shall emerge again; 

O, I do not  know whether many passing by will discover you or inhale your faint odor, but I believe a few will; (Whitman 268).

The stanza continues with Whitman stating that the bits of inspiration that spring from him tell his own story, but that at times the honesty of his own words is more powerful than expected (Whitman 269, lines 7-9). In an interesting twist, Whitman’s words don’t celebrate the goodness within him as usual, here a darkness is revealed. We are used to celebrations of life from Whitman, but with this poem he seems to choose death, or at least accepts it as a reality. Until now, we have seen Whitman view death with an immortal air…as inevitable yes, but as a continuation of the soul, as another “step” of life, but I think the end of this poem shows Whitman accepting death as more of an absolute. He writes: ” O I think it is not for life I am chanting here, my chant of lovers,I think it must be for death,…Death or life I am indifferent, my souls declines to prefer,…Indeed O death, I think now these leaves mean precisely the same as you mean, (Whitman 269). He continues, stating that although he has declined to choose between life or death in the past, he now is inspired by and accepting of death and will not hide from expressing his more solemn side as he may have done in the past as evidenced by line 21, “Come I am determin’d unbare this broad breast of mine, I have long enough stifled and choked;” (Whitman 269).

He goes on to say that his job now with this poem is to make death exhilarating for his audience (line 27) and that we (everyone) are bound equally by love and death. But most importantly he concludes that life is not the real reality, but that maybe death is instead. In the final two lines he writes: That may-be you are what it is all for, but it does not last so very long, But you will last very long. These final lines are the key to the poem. The first you after the maybe refers to life (or love) and Whitman says that maybe that’s what we are all here for (that’s definitely what we want to believe we are here for: to live and love to the fullest), but Whitman challenges that and reminds us that love and life are fleeting, so he proposes what if that’s not what we are here for, which brings us to the second you. The second you refers to death, which is lasting so Whitman suggests, What if death is the real reality? In the lines precluding the last two, he reminds is that we form relationships, buy material things and participate in daily activities, but instead of relishing in those experiences as he usually does, instead here he seems to ask what for?. He doesn’t take a stance on what death is specifically like yet, but does seem more certain about its finality here than in previous works. Welcome to a slightly darker side of Whitman, which for me doesn’t make his work any less beautiful, or relevant.

Whitman Poems Set to Music

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Oh the amazingness that is Google! :O) I just received our email from Dr. Hoffman telling us that this week’s blog post is another free write! yay! and you know how google puts links in their margins and headers that it thinks you might be interested in based on your emails, well, I found this link. It’s to a site called (so, i’m asuming the band’s name is cramer, unless it’s just one guy, then his name is Scott Cramer. He is the creator of the site.) and they (or he) SING Whitman poems and you can download their songs for free if you’re interested. Just thought I’d post the link and a song for your listening pleasure…here is Cramer with I Sing the Body Electric. also check out If Anything is Sacred. On I Sing…he sounds a bit like Cake, but not on the other track. Enjoy! (site link)

Download I Sing the Body Electric

p.s. Should we add this to Whitman’s Playlist? Do you think Whitman Would Approve/ Disapprove of Cramer?

My addition to Tara’s Song of Myself Playlist

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Hey Everyone. I love tara’s idea of a “song of myself” playlist, so here’s my addition. I just saw Dave Matthews Band this past Sunday at the Tweeter Center (they are my fave band (although i have other faves too) by the way) and I think Whitman would have really enjoyed a song called “Lying in the Hands of God” off the band’s new cd. I think Whitman would have especially like the chorus and this song has some sexy imagery, which he would have definitely enjoyed! I have posted a video below for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

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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.


What is Afflatus? An Image Gloss…

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 The Aeolian harp became the symbol of afflatus in Romantic Poetry.

Whitman writes, “Through me the afflatus surges and surges. . . . through me the current and index” (Whitman 50).  But what is the afflatus? Merriam Webster’s Dictionary Online defines it as follows:

  • Main Entry: af·fla·tus
  • Pronunciation: \ə-ˈflā-təs, a-\
  • Function: noun
  • Etymology: Latin, act of blowing or breathing on, from afflare to blow on, from ad- + flare to blow — more at blow
  • Date: 1660

: a divine imparting of knowledge or power : inspiration (

The term afflatus was coined by Cicero and is most frequently translated as inspiration, but Cicero wanted to make the concept of inspiration, the gathering of an idea, tactile; he likened a poet’s collecting of ideas to a gust of wind.  Author T. V. F Brogan in the New Princeton Encyclopedia  of Poetry and Poetics writes:

Literally, “inspiration,” like “afflatus,” means “to be blown into” by a divine wind. As “inspiration” came to mean simply the gathering of a new idea, Cicero reiterated the idea of a rush of unexpected breath, a powerful force that would render the poet helpless and unaware of its origin. In English, “afflatus” is used for this literal form of inspiration. It generally refers not to the usual sudden originality, but to the staggering and stunning blow of a new idea, an idea that the recipient may be unable to explain. In Romantic literature and criticism, in particular, the usage of “afflatus” was revived for the mystical form of poetic inspiration tied to “genius”. . . ( When I first saw that this post meant divine inspiration I immediately thought of the Romantics, Coleridge and Wordsworth, and apparently I was right to think of them as fans of afflatus because the rest of the wiki post confirmed my thoughts.

To me, when Whitman talks of the afflatus surging through him I think of it as energy flowing through him bodily and then through his knowledge base (what he calls his index )and finally the physical and mental paths converge and form the words of his poems. The thoughts of energies joining and forming something new also remind me of T.S. Eliot’s catalyst in ” Tradition and the Individual Talent.”

Finally, in other news afflatus is also the name of two bands one from Canada and one from India. I know nothing about them, but have posted a link to each of their ebsites for your viewing and maybe (if they’re good) musical pleasure. :) and Enjoy!

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Song of Erin

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“Song of Erin”

 I exist as I am, that is enough,

If no other in the world be aware I sit content,

And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is


And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand

or ten million years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I

can wait.

My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite,

I laugh at what you call dissolution,

And I know the amplitude of time.

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