Emily for Sept 29

September 29th, 2009

To continue with the playlist theme several of us have been riffing off of these past weeks, I will present a few of the many songs to which Whitman could relate.  As I was reading “Children of Adam,” I was listening to Judas Priest quite a bit, so that inspired the idea for tonight’s post.  I was sitting in Starbucks thinking “I have to read this stuff, and have something interesting to say/write about it,” when inspiration struck.  Something about the overtly sexual themes of the poems in “Children of Adam” and the sexually charged heavy metal music of Judas Priest blended really well in my mind.

So, I started thinking of songs that are obviously about sex, like Ted Nugent’s “Love Grenade” or Abba’s “Gimme! Gimme !Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),” or Judas Priest’s “Turbo Lover.”  Then I started thinking about the differences between the songs.  “Love Grenade” and “Turbo Lover,” like many songs of the “hair” metal genre, are considered vulgar and bawdy, and quite possibly very offensive to some women. (There must be something wrong with me as a feministic woman because I find “Love Grenade” hilarious and ridiculous, not offensive.)  Abba’s song, on the other hand, isn’t vulgar or bawdy because it doesn’t describe or illustrate a sex act in any way; it just alludes to one.  Because Whitman openly described sex acts, he was considered vulgar and bawdy in his day.  Artists who follow in Whitman’s footsteps, like the heavy metal bands, are shunned by the dominant culture and embraced by those interested in new, edgier art.

The hyperlinks lead to websites featuring the lyrics.  I apologize for the grammar and other issues that tend to offend us English major geeks.  These are due to errors in transcribing, not the artists’ writing.  Whitman would probably approve of the various deviations of language, but I don’t.

Now that we’ve looked at the contemporary songs’ treatment of sex, we can look at Whitman’s similar treatment.   In “A Woman Waits for Me,” Whitman’s speaker does two things that were unheard of in his day—describe sexual acts, and admit to having more than one partner in life.  Whitman writes, “I will go stay with her who waits for me, and with those women that are warm-blooded and sufficient for me” (“Woman” 12).  In this line Whitman goes from a singular “woman” to a plural “women.”  This seems to be the single woman the speaker’s going to “love” in the time frame of the poem—and the other women like her, whom he’ll “love” in the future.  In any case, the speaker has no intention of marrying the woman, and the poem gives no indication of the speaker planning further nights with her.  This “one night stand” isn’t shocking anymore, but in the 19th century it certainly was.

The next shock within the poem is Whitman’s overtly sexual lines:

It is I, you women, I make my way,

I am stern, acrid, large, undissuadable, but I love you,

I do not hurt you any more than is necessary for you,

I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for these States, I               press with slow rude muscle,

I brace myself effectually, I listen to no entreaties,

I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long accumulated                within me (“Woman” 25-30).

These lines really don’t require much explanation.  “Pour the stuff” and “deposit what has so long accumulated within me” are obvious references to ejaculation.  The rest of the lines are aligned with the sexual theme.  Again, these lines are relatively shocking now, so it is understandable how shocking they were in the time they were written.

If you look at these lines and then look at the lyrics for the three songs above, you can see how sex continues to be a major theme in art—and can be done tastefully (Abba) or bawdily (Judas Priest and Ted Nugent).

Below are the videos for the three songs discussed.  Enjoy.

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Emily for Sept. 22

September 22nd, 2009

Looking at the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass as a whole, it is clear that many of the themes in “Song of Myself” carry over into the other poems in the collection.  I was able to find connections very easily, and for each one I found there are probably many other possibilities.

In “Song for Occupations,” Whitman writes, “Come closer to me,/Push close my lovers and take the best I possess,/Yield closer and closer and give me the best you possess” (1-3).  In “Song of Myself,” Whitman writes “I celebrate myself,/And what I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (1-3).  The poet is creating an informal, welcoming introduction in both of these passages.  He celebrates himself and everyone else in “Song of Myself” and expresses the intimacy of equality in “Song for Occupations.”

Moving from the theme of intimacy and equality, Whitman also considers the theme of time as it relates to life and death.  In “To Think of Time,” the poet writes:

Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,

Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,

The whole universe indicates that it is good,

The past and the present indicate that it is good (116-19).

This is similar to the passage:

They are alive and well somewhere;

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,

And if there was it led to forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,

And ceased the moment life appeared (“Song of Myself” 116-19).

In the former passage, Whitman is discussing death metaphorically.  He is walking towards a future he can’t define, but he knows it will be good.  He knows this because he has seen the circle of life occur throughout nature—all around him, so he isn’t worried about where he’s going—in his life or his death.  The second passage actually helps explain the first (notice, it occurs first in the book):  The excerpt continues a discussion of death answering where the old people are.  “The smallest sprout” grows from the once dead, showing “there is really no death.”  This is part of the universe which “indicates that it is good.”   These excerpts echo each other as many of the lines throughout Leaves of Grass do.

Going back to the theme of equality, Whitman often saw himself in others.  As a poet he often writes in multiple personas—shifting from race to race and gender to gender.  In “The Sleepers” he does this throughout the entire poem.  He sets up the premise in the following passage:  “I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers/And I become the other dreamers” (29-30).   He enters the dreams of those sleeping and becomes part of their dreams—part of the dreamers.  This is a good device to allow the speaker to switch between personas without confusing the reader too much.   After reading “Song of Myself” it is obvious that Whitman will write in this manner with relative ease.  In a passage that could be taken as an explanation for his ability and fondness for writing in various personas, Whitman writes, “In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less,/And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them” (“Song of Myself” 400-01).  The speaker considers himself equal with everybody; therefore, he has no trouble becoming them in his poetry.  He doesn’t care about “good” or “bad;” he writes it all the same, with the same energy and enthusiasm.

In short, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is consistent in its energy and thematic elements throughout the poems—with “Song of Myself” setting the stage.  Considering the length of “Song of Myself” compared to the other poems in this edition, it really isn’t too surprising that the themes would re-emerge in later poems.

Image Gloss: Embouchure

September 16th, 2009

I sound triumphal drums for the dead….I fling through

my embouchures the loudest and gayest music to them (368).

In this line, Whitman uses a word I am unfamiliar with—embouchures.
By using context clues, I figured out that it must have something to do with music because almost every word in the line refers to music in some way.  As I read Whitman, or anyone else who uses an unfamiliar word, I go straight to the OED.  The following is the definitions taken directly from the OED:

1. The mouth of a river or creek. Also transf. the opening out of a valley into a plain.

1792 Fortn. Ramble xvi. 114 We reached the embouchure of the fall. 1812Examiner 14 Sept. 580/2 Near to the embouchier of Berezina. 1830 LYELL Princ. Geol. I. 238 The city Foah..so late as the beginning of the fifteenth century, was on this embouchure. 1856 STANLEY Sinai & Pal. II. i. 71 Huge cones of white clay and sand..guarding the embouchure of the valleys. 1868 G. DUFF Pol. Surv. 100It lies..at the embouchure of several rivers.

2. Music. ‘The part of a musical instrument applied to the mouth’ (Grove).

1834 M. SOMERVILLE Connex. Phys. S. xvii. (1849) 169 The embouchure of a flute. 1873 W. LEES Acoustics I. iii. 27 The air..is made to play upon the thin edge of the pipe at the embouchure C.

3. Music. ‘The disposition of the lips, tongue and other organs necessary for producing a musical tone’ (Grove).

1760 GOLDSM. Cit. W. xc, You see..I have got the ambusheer already [on the German flute]. 1879 GROVE Dict. Mus. I. 536 The second octave is produced by a stronger pressure of wind and an alteration of embouchure.

The first definition of the word has nothing to do with music, and did nothing to illuminate the line because it doesn’t fit any of the context clues—and makes no sense in the line.  The second and third definitions, however, are perfect for the line, making the line much clearer—“By blowing through a musical instrument, or whistling, I am going to create loud and happy music.”  If we extend this line to the others in the stanza, we get a musical send off for the dead, triumphant music in spite of their failings.

Here is a picture of someone using an embouchure to create music—“the loudest and gayest” perhaps:


Emily for September 15

September 15th, 2009

Last night, my favorite album Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4 came up on my ipod—I keep it on the Shuffle Albums setting most of the time.  Anyway, as the closing song “Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes” played I thought of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”  Here are the lyrics and a chance to listen on YouTube:

Well I don’t want no jesus freak to tell me what it’s all about
No black magician telling me to cast them all out
Don’t believe in violence, I don’t even believe in peace
I’ve opened the door now my mind’s been released

Well I don’t want no preacher telling me about the god in the sky
No I don’t want no one to tell me where I’m gonna go when I die
I wanna live my life, I don’t want people telling me what to do
I just believe in myself, ’cause no one else is true

Every day just comes and goes
Life is one big overdose
People try to rule the nation
I can’t see through their frustration

People riding their real paces
keep on running their rat races
behind each flower grows a weed
in their world of make-believe

So believe what I tell you, it’s the only way to fight in the end
Just believe in yourself, you know you really shouldn’t have to pretend
don’t let those empty people try and interfere with your mind
Just live your life and leave them all behind

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In general, I was struck by the singer/speaker’s desire to be an independent individual, his unwillingness to listen to “Jesus freaks” (Black Sabbath) or preachers, and his aspirations to show others how to be independent.  All of these traits are elements of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

Among many adjectives, Whitman is certainly independent.  He knows he is creating something completely original in a completely original way—a new kind of poem to fit his subject.  Fully aware of his break from tradition, Whitman writes, “I have heard what the talkers were talking….the talk of the beginning and the end,/But I do not talk of the beginning or the end” (30-31).  If he isn’t talking about the beginning or the end, he must be talking about the here and now—about a fully human experience.  The speaker in Whitman’s “Song” is tired of hearing “what it’s all about,” (Black Sabbath) so he is going to talk/write about the human experience, the wonderful as well as the terrible.  The freedom to discuss the here and now is one the band Black Sabbath enjoys as well:  “I’ve opened the door now my mind’s been released.”  This freedom occurs only after turning away from the preachers (“Jesus freaks”) who insist on speaking of the “beginning or the end” (Whitman 30). This is a freedom that will allow the poet and the band to explore their own beliefs and encourage others to make up their own minds.

As Walt Whitman and Black Sabbath both exhibit independence in their works, they also put forth their speakers’ beliefs.  The poet and the band display much faith in themselves.  Whitman writes, “I believe in you my soul…. the other I am must not abase itself to you,/And you must not be abased to the other” (73-74).  Whitman believes in himself—body (“the other I”) and soul.

Black Sabbath takes their speaker’s independence even further in his belief:  “I just believe in myself, ’cause no one else is true.”  Whereas the band’s speaker in “Under the Sun” only believes in himself, Whitman’s speaker believes in himself and God:  “I hear and behold God in every object, yet I understand God not in the least,/Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself” (1273-74).  In this sense, the speaker openly expresses his shortcomings as well as his faith.

Because both speakers illustrate faith in themselves, they seem—and are—egotistical.  However, while they are egotistical, the speakers also display a desire to lead others in their teaching—showing others how to be egotistical and fiercely independent.  Whitman doesn’t hide his speaker’s egotism; he writes, “I know perfectly well my own egotism,/And know my omnivorous words, and cannot say any less,/And would fetch you whoever you are flush with myself” (1076-79).  In other words, the speaker openly admits to being an egotist, but also invites others to join him.  This is similar to Black Sabbath’s final stanza in “Under the Sun:”

So believe what I tell you, it’s the only way to fight in the end
Just believe in yourself, you know you really shouldn’t have to pretend
don’t let those empty people try and interfere with your mind
Just live your life and leave them all behind (Black Sabbath).

The entire stanza is devoted to instructing others to be free like the speaker, whose “mind’s been released” (Black Sabbath).  In both cases, the goal of the speaker is to provide the listeners/readers with the strength to make up their own minds.

In short, Walt Whitman and Black Sabbath write of independent thinkers who seek to help their audiences be independent too.  They both have earth shattering views of God and religion, are egotistic and know it, and willing to show others the way.

Song of Emily

September 9th, 2009

Song of Emily and Linus

I know I am august,

I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,

I see that the elementary laws never apologize,

I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my

house by after all.

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.

These lines are pretty self explanatory-and relate to my current state of mind.  I am content with my life, for now, and confident–but not overconfident.  I like how Whitman demonstrates his strength of character in these lines–and many others–without being too “cocky.”  This is  where I am in my own life.

As for the photo, I thought my puppy, Linus, would add a nice touch.  He is a very confident, unapologetic, dog:  He’s never afraid to have his voice be heard–he always has the last bark.  If he is stubborn, it is only because he is so smart.  Anyway, Linus never fails to put a smile on my face–even when he’s misbehaving–so I thought he would put a smile on yours too.