Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 18th Oct, 2009

Erin for 9/20

Every week, I feel like I learn something new about Whitman. This week I learned that Whitman was apparently a racist. I suppose I had just assumed that since he was a forward thinker, and that he wrote about sheltering a runaway slave in Song of Myself that he was for equality. Of course this isn’t the first time that my initial impression of what Whitman thought was wrong, but I suppose it’s a little more shocking to me this time because we’ve been studying him for half a semester now, and somehow I didn’t pick up on this at all. I especially thought Morris’ comment on how Whitman romanticised native Africans, but he was prejudiced against blacks in America was weird. For a man who loves America and everything in it so much, I found it a little strange. It doesn’t mess with my personal view of him too much, since I’m already at odds with his treatment of women.

In spite of all this, I found myself feeling a lot of admiration for what Whitman did for those soldiers. Referring to the prompt for this week, he really did treat those soldiers the way that Whitman as speaker tells his audience how he wishes to treat them. He is tender, and while outwardly trying to be non-sexual, it’s evident in his writings and Morris’ description that he struggled with his feelings while with the soldier, and formed more than casual relationships with some. He holds them, caresses them, tries to make them feel better, much like Whitman the speaker does for his readers through his poetry. According to Whitman, the soldiers responded positively to him, in the same way I’m sure Whitman wanted his readers to react. While Morris notes that “you are always the hero of your own biography” it seems very plausible to me that Whitman would be well accepted among the soldiers. I mean, who wouldn’t want someone to visit them and bring them gifts when they were trapped somewhere as foul as those hospitals, being taken care of by soldiers who weren’t good enough to go off to battle?

So often I feel that I am looking at a juxtaposition of two very different sides of Whitman, and the two opposing sides are making my decision on how I view him incredibly difficult. Part of me wants to, and does, accept him as the great American poet, someone who’s poetry is beautiful and inspiring, and yet I can’t reconcile that to my frustration at his all-knowing stance in his poetry, in which his personal view points are not always what I want them to be.

Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 15th Oct, 2009

Semi-Whitman Related Findings in Front Royal

I spent my break in Front Royal, and happened to go there on a day where they were having a street festival or something. Anyway, they had a little Confederate museum tucked away in the downtown area, and because of the festival we got to go for free! So two things that I think are of interest:

This flag was flown during the battle of Fredericksburg, as well as some other big name battles. The lighting isnt great, but you should be able to make out Fredericksburg embroidered on the bottom.

This flag was flown during the battle of Fredericksburg, as well as some other big name battles. The lighting isn't great, but you should be able to make out "Fredericksburg" embroidered on the bottom.

This is a list of places where the flag was flown.

This is a list of places where the flag was flown.

This flag was flown at the Spotsylvania Court House battle.

This flag was flown at the Spotsylvania Court House battle.

And also just for fun:

This is made entirely out of locks of human hair from a bunch of different people, including...

This is made entirely out of locks of human hair from a bunch of different people, including...

See where the 1 is? That would mark off Jefferson Davis hair. Awesome.

See where the 1 is? That would mark off Jefferson Davis' hair. Awesome.

Apparently this was an art form back in the day…strange.

My pictures/blog  from our field trip should be up soon, Flickr wasn’t letting me upload anything for a while.

Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 5th Oct, 2009

Erin for 10/6

A lot of what I was thinking about this week had to do with how Whitman compares to other civil war poets. Since my presentation this week is on “other civil war poetry” I’ve been reading Drum-Taps with the other poets in mind. It’s still weird to me how often times Whitman seems like he’s on a completely different plane from everyone else. Stylistically and with subject matter, he’s in a league of his own.

Meg and I have noticed that most people writing civil war poetry were not writing from a position of experience, but most likely from their lazy boys by the fire. A lot of their poetry had to do with glorifying the war cause and trying to inspire people to go to battle. The most prominent writers were never involved in the war.

When I was reading “Song of the Banner at Daybreak” it seemed like a pretty direct criticism of those people. The pennant, calling the child to war and yet having nothing to do with the war in and of itself is saddening in a way. Especially with the father, trying desperately to make the child understand that the war isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is a sad contrast.  Hardly any writers at the time seemed to be pointing out the utter pointlessness and brutality of the fighting going on, but Whitman went ahead and put it out there. “The Wound Dresser” is also a very direct attempt to portray the violence of the war. It’s almost like he’s using shock value to get his point across.

I also thought it was interesting how in several poems Whitman inserts direct speakers, something I hadn’t seen before. Perhaps this is an attempt to legitimize the points he’s attempting to make?

I definitely have a new respect for what Whitman was doing during this time period. Also, I would like to say that his poetry is LOADS better than a lot of other civil war writings we’ve come across. The awful rhyming…just awful. Also sometimes sickeningly patriotic, especially when considering how all these young boys were dying and people thought it was all for the glory of the union…just…ugh. So kudos to Whitman for stepping away from his grand vision of America to point out that this killing is senseless, yo.

Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 27th Sep, 2009

Erin for 9/29

In response to the prompt and quote for this week, what did Whitman consider the “real” war to be? My interpretation, which could be wrong, is that Whitman saw the real war as the devastation that was felt by the families of soldiers and civilians, and the stories of the soldiers themselves. The history that is in the books is impersonal. I think Whitman tried to personalize the war and bring it down to less grandiose level by relating the stories of the soldiers he met. Unfortunately he only captured most at the ends of their lives, after they were physically and mentally destroyed by the war.

I think some of the problems with Whitman’s description of his war experiences are the same problems that we run into with his poetry. He tries to represent everything and everyone, and therefore somewhat loses something when he begins to generalize and list. I saw this in the way he kept his diary like a catalogue, a description we have used for his poetry, a catalogue of the various soldiers he met, their injuries, what he gave them, whether or not they died.  On the one hand we are seeing the mass amount of destruction caused by this war- it seems like every soldier Whitman described had something amputated- but on the other hand we’re still not seeing any reflection on how this is going to affect the soldier’s life from then on, or his family.

I thought Whitman’s most interesting observations were not necessarily with the soldiers, but when he observed life outside of the hospitals. I loved the passage where he described the inauguration ball taking place in the patent office, where months before he had seen the cots of the soldiers.

So to answer the question for this week, I’m not really sure whether or not Whitman succeeded in getting the “real” war into his books. At his time, I feel like it’s very likely that all of the horrible injuries and mass casualties were not necessarily widely reported, so maybe for Whitman’s time he really was giving a more real account of the civil war than anyone else was at the time. The passage about the two brothers who were fighting on opposite sides and were injured in the same battle, the wounds from which both subsequently dies, strikes me that way. Perhaps no one in Whitman’s time would have made a statement like that. I feel like now though, especially the way the civil war is gone over and over again in history classes throughout grade school, most people are very aware that family members often fought against each other, that the battles were extremely bloody, and the politics involved in the fighting. I wonder if Whitman would say that the history books now are giving a more true account of things.

Ok this is a side note but, every time Whitman mentioned the “naked” bodies of the soldiers and then that part where he said he was sitting by the side of the soldier while he was sleeping, I just got this really weird image of him being a creeper and watching people while they slept…not to mention the part where he alludes to stalking Lincoln…

Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 20th Sep, 2009

Erin for 9/22

So one of the major things that really stuck out to me, as lame is this might be, was the punctuation adjustments going on between these two versions. It seems that in the deathbed edition, Whitman removed a lot of the commas throughout the poems, as well as dashes (which he sometimes replaced with commas or just plain removed). This really bothered me, probably a lot more than it should have. Every time I would notice it I would wonder why Whitman did that, and for the most part I felt like he was “tidying” up the poem. I mean it definitely shifts the rhythm and emphasis of different sections, but I just didn’t really see the point for the most part, other than maybe he looked at it on the page and thought the lines looked too cluttered.

For instance, in A Word Out of the Sea, all the commas gave it this amazing rhythm. I was reading it out loud to myself, and getting really into it (thank goodness my roommate was not around). The rhythm fit really well with the idea of the waves going back and forth and the circular motion he was trying to show through the poem. Then I read Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, and it wasn’t drastically different, but he removed around half, maybe more, of all the commas. Like I said before, it seems like mostly he was just making the poem neater. One of the things I really love about Whitman is the way everything is so stream of consciousness, like he’s incorporating every idea that he’s having at every second into the poem. I love the rawness of his writing. Maybe I am making too much out of it, but I feel like he took that away along with the commas.

Another change I found interesting in this poem was the change in capitalization. In the first version (A Word…) the words sun and death are capitalized, and in Out of the Cradle, they are not. I was really curious why he did this, especially with sun, because it’s harder for me to see the reasoning behind that one. One possible theory I had for that is that when sun was capitalized, (Pour down your warmth, great Sun!) it personifies and addresses the sun,whereas taking away the capitalization, while still addressing the sun, takes away the emphasis from it. Since he didn’t seem to personify much else within the poem, I thought maybe he just changed it because he thought it was too random and didn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the text.

The change in capitalization of the word death was more drastic. This is the original passage:

Lisp’d to me the low and delicious word DEATH;

And again Death—ever Death, Death, Death,
Hissing melodious, neither like the bird, nor like my
arous’d child’s heart,
But edging near, as privately for me, rustling at my
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears, and laving me
softly all over,

Death, Death, Death, Death, Death.

In the deathbed edition though, every thing is lowercase. I can see why Whitman would have wanted to change that, mostly because it seemed like in this edition he was trying to make the poem more generalized, and I think maybe he thought there was too much emphasis on “death” when that wasn’t necessarily where he wanted the emphasis (though it was most definitely an important aspect of the poem). When I read the 1867 version though, this section, and up until the end was really powerful to me, aided by the all caps DEATH and then the subsequent capitalizations. Reading the 1891 version removed that powerfulness for me. The first time around I felt like Whitman was shouting at me, the second time just calmly reading to me. Going along with this, I didn’t like the way he added in the second to last line in the 1891 version:

(Or like some old crone rocking the cradle, swathed in sweet garments, bending aside,)

It completely took me out of the poem in a way that didn’t happen in the 1867 version. I thought maybe he was trying to connect the images of the cradle and then the previously mentioned nagging mother, but it didn’t work for me. I thought the first version was way more powerful. It just really makes me wonder what he was thinking while making all of these revisions.

Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 15th Sep, 2009

Walt Whitman, Who Are You?

I suppose one of the questions I have is how egotistical Walt Whitman really was. I feel like if he was as self-confident as he makes himself out to be, he would be really annoying to hang out with. I guess I’d like to know more about how Whitman was just in personal, normal life.

Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 15th Sep, 2009

Build it and Whitman Will Come?

So over the weekend my family ended up coming up here to stay for a few days. My dad knows I’m involved in this Whitman project, so he couldn’t wait to tell me that he had seen a show on PBS last week where a man was inspired by a Walt Whitman poem about baseball to build a giant baseball diamond in his backyard. Unfortunately he failed to remember what the show was called, or which poem it was, so I have been searching in vain to find the show.

I think it is possibly this program here  (I am encouraged by the Whitman quote on the top of the page) but none of the episode descriptions mention a man building a field a la “Field of Dreams.” If I ever manage to find a clip of it I will post it here, but I thought I’d throw this out there in case anyone knew anything about it.

One thing I did find out through my searches: there are lots of little league teams named after Whitman.

Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 15th Sep, 2009

Erin for September 15th.

So, Whitman.



Even though Whitman uses a lot of sexual and sensual language in his poetry, I have a really hard time accepting the speaker as a sexual being. I don’t really feel like Whitman spoke to me here. In “Song of Myself” I felt really connected to a lot of those passages, there were some beautiful passages and lines that I absolutely loved. In Children of Adam, I’m not really moved (I wanted to say touched but I feel like that might be awkward…) by anything he says. It was the first time I didn’t underline anything in the text, or mark anything. I just kind of sat there thinking “Alright it’s steamy, but when’s it gonna get more profound than my grandma’s romance novels?” I wanted more from the text than intertwining, sweating bodies.

Calamus however, was a different story. Even though it was less overt than Children of Adam, there was so much more passion behind the writing. I particularly liked “Trickle Drops.” At times a little cliche, but I loved the image of “saturate them with yourself all ashamed and wet.” The entire set of poems here just seem filled with so much more life and feeling than Children of Adam. I could just be reading into this because I am considering Whitman’s sexuality, but the imagery is so much stronger to me. I thought it was interesting as well that in Children of Adam, the imagery had more to do with people themselves, and in Calamus there was a lot of nature imagery as well as some city imagery. While Children of Adam had some of that, those images factored in much more prominently in Calamus. I got the sense that maybe Whitman was suggesting that this “robust love” he was describing was both natural and progressive, especially compared to the way he presented heterosexual relationships. 

Just as a side note, I wanted to say that “I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing” reminded me of this tree I saw this summer when I visited Charleston:

The Angel Oak in Charleston, South Carolina

The Angel Oak in Charleston, South Carolina

Not my picture, but a better idea of what it looks like up close.

Not my picture, but a better idea of what it looks like up close.

Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 8th Sep, 2009

Image Gloss – Embouchure

“I sound triumphal drums for the dead….I fling through
my embouchures the loudest and gayest music to them,”
Both the action of embouchure and the mouthpiece.

Both the action of embouchure and the mouthpiece.

  • Pronunciation: \ˈäm-bü-ˌshr, ˌäm-bü-ˈ\
  • Function: noun
  • Etymology: French, from (s’)emboucher to flow into, from en- + bouche mouth — more at debouch
  • Date: 1760
  • 1 : the position and use of the lips, tongue, and teeth in playing a wind instrument
    2 : the mouthpiece of a musical instrument


    The embouchure is the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece of a wind or brass instrument.

    The word is of French origin and is related to the root bouche (fr.), ‘mouth’.

    The proper embouchure allows the instrumentalist to play the instrument at its full range with a full, clear tone and without strain or damage to one’s muscles.

    I suppose me not knowing this term might stem from being unfamiliar with wind instruments, but I still thought it was interesting to learn about.  I thought it was interesting that this term seems to be used more typically to refer to the shape of a person’s mouth as they play a wind instrument, whereas here Whitman uses it as the mouthpiece. After reading the definition of this word and then rereading the line, I get a much stronger image. Whitman with his cheeks puffed out, pursing his lips “flinging” the music through the instrument.



    Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 6th Sep, 2009

    Erin for September 8th.

    This week’s reading is giving me a clearer sense of the America Whitman is envisioning through his poetry. “Song of the Broad-Axe” shows a nation that has been built by the working man, and is still being built by the working man. Whitman describes it as a place “where the citizen is always the head and the ideal” and “where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as men, where they enter the public assembly and take the places the same as the men” (p.335-336). This is where Whitman’s I begin to become suspicious of this so-called “ideal.”

    Obviously Whitman is a supporter of women’s rights, I don’t doubt that. He is clear when addressing the reader that he means “man or woman,” “he or she,” etc. Something that bothers me though is the lack of women taking part in Whitman’s America. He writers that “a great city is that which has the greatest men and women” (p.335). There is no mention though of women ever helping to create that city. Whitman writes of “the six framing-men, two in the middle and two at each end, carefully bearing on their shoulders a heavy stick for a cross-beam” but where are the women helping to lay the foundation? There is no reference to men and women building the nation together. Furthermore, as far as I have read, Whitman never takes women out of their traditionally assigned gender roles of being mothers, housewives and shop girls. While you could argue Whitman was portraying life as he saw it, I believe there’s more to it than that. I think that Whitman does believe women are equal to men, and that their voices should be heard and listened to in earnest, but he doesn’t suggest that women should work alongside men. He keeps them in the home, or working at sewing machines. Even when he tells the reader in “Song of Occupations” that “the wife, and she is not one jot less than the husband…the mother, and she is every bit as much as the father” (p. 356). There is no mention of simply the woman being equal to the man. He writes of men building up the nation, and then they will eventually raise women and slaves to be their equals.  Where is the woman fighting for her right to vote? Where is the woman fighting for equal pay or job opportunities? Why are these not images he included in his sweeping and romantic descriptions of America? Even when referring to slaves, he portrays them as downtrodden people who he must nurture and care for, who could do nothing, achieve nothing without his help.

    In my opinion, Whitman likes the idea of women and slaves having equal rights, but he writes about it more as a passing interest than something he is deeply convicted of. I hate to end another blog in suspicion, but Whitman leaves me no choice.

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