I Sing The Body Electric Cinepoem

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Below is my final project. A cinepoem of Whitman’s I Sing the Body Electric. Hope everyone likes it! Let me know.

I Sing the Body Electric: A Cinepoem

Found Whitman Right at Rutgers!!!

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Hey Everyone! I found Whitman right at Rutgers! Enjoy my reading of Years of the Modern. I wanted to do “Pioneers” to be like the Levi’s ad, but wasn’t sure I could pull it off. That’s a guy poem! :O)

Years of the Modern


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.

Erin M. for Oct. 20th

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Song of Myself in Prose

This week’s reading of the rest of Speciman Days was to me, Song of Myself in prose. This last portion of Walt’s journals take place after his return from the war when his is back in the South Jersey/ Camden area. Immediately from the start of his entry entitled “New Themes Entered Upon” we realize that we have left the darkness of war and the battlefield behind. Instead Whitman has returned to his lazy days in the grass where we first met him in Song of Myself with odes to nature with early entries like “Entering A Long Farm-Lane”, “To The Spring and Brook”, “An Early Summer Reveille”, “Birds Migrating at Midnight” and “Bumblebees” (p 803-810).

With the post “A Sun Bath-Nakedness” Whitman begins to further develop his major theme of love of nature and speaks of nature’s beauty and greatness as it applies to his own health. As we know from the note on page 713 Whitman wrote this portion of his journals in ill health, after a stroke and here with entries like the sun bath entry Whitman speaks of nature’s wonder as the thing that has healed his spirit and keeps his outlook bright. He writes, “…to what do I attribute my already much restored health? That I  have been almost two years, off and on, without drugs and medicines, and daily in the open air” (830). He continues the entry, describing the sun bathing process and finally attributes his nakedness  largely to his rehabilitation (832). Then, in “The Oaks and I” he writes of the strength he gains from the oak trees, just as the sun restored him during his subbath the oak trees renew his strength during a morning walk. On page 832 he writes:

 “shelter’d under a dense oak by the bank, where I have taken refuge from a sudden rain. I came down here…for the before-mention’d exercise I am fond of— to pull on that young hickory sappling out there…haply to get into my old sinews some of its elastic fibre and clear sap…I can soon feel the sap and sinew rising through me, like mercury to heat. I hold on boughs or slender trees caressingly there in the sun and shade, wrestle with their innocent stalwartness—and I know the virtue thereof passes into me”.

He continues, giving gratitude to all of Nature for its healing properties: “Thanks, invisible physician, for thy silent delicious medicine, thy day and night, thy waters and thy airs, the banks, the grass, the trees and e’en the weeds”(833).

Next,  in entries such as “February Days”, where he mentions the songs of the robins and blue birds (838), Whitman is praising the healing aspects of Nature’s animals while entries such as “Horse Mint”, “Clover and Hay Perfume and even “Happiness and Raspberries” praise the power of scent on the human spirit.

With, the end of Whitman’s Specimen Days, he has given us a visceral, almost palpable report of the world around us and the healing properties they possess if we just approach them in the right state of mind. A trip to the Jersey shore can do wonders for our outlook, just by being in the sun and breathing in the ocean salts. I know this from experience. There are times when I just need to be at the ocean, somehow it lets you escape something that is bothering  you and revives you somehow. Besides the shore Whitman visits Manhattan and loves that just as much (and any trip he takes on the ferry for that matter).  Finally, Whitman also noticed that colors of things have an affect on our mental state and well-being(Straw Color’d and Other Psyches p. 852).

Thanks to Whitman for the reminder to return to nature occassionally to glean whatever it has to give me. And to always do my best to remain an optimist. Maybe we should all slow down a bit, stop worrying or being too busy and take some time to sun bathe naked or gain strength from oaks; after all it’s the healthy thing to do, Whitman says!


Whitman Cigars: A Poetic Comfort

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Frank Hartmann Sr. 1890

 Walt Whitman cigars were the brainchild of cigarmaker and businessman Frank J. Hartmann, Sr.  Mr. Hartmann learned the cigar maker trade in the 1880’s from  Cuban  cigar maker Raphael Perez, whom Hartmann and his family lived with at the time. In 1887, Frank moved his family from the Perez’s Philadelphia home to what is now the Cramer Hill area of Camden. Shortly after his arrival in Camden, Hartmann met Abner Benjamin Sparks, Sr., fellow cigar maker and then owner of Spark Cigars. Spark Cigars was a small cigar manufacturing plant on third and Arch Street in Camden. Eventually, Hartmann bought  Spark’s business expanding it into a larger building encompassing the entire corner of  3rd and Arch Streets. Below are some photos of Frank Hartmann and the Spark Factory (images courtesy of dvrbs.com a full link to the site is below).











Sparks Factory Full View


Spark Factory Close Up F. Hartmann in Doorway

Spark Factory Close Up F. Hartmann in Doorway

In approximately the 1890’s, Frank Hartmann developed Walt Whitman Cigars and while I was unable to find Hartmann’s personal reason for choosing Whitman as the “face” of his cigars, it seems that many cigar brands were using literary figures (even davey crockett) in order to entice the public to buy cigars. (you can find more info on cigar advertisting at the link below entitled cigaraficinado.com). And today the cigar labels and boxes are coveted collector’s items. According to the Libary of Congress exihibit, Revising Himself: Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass, although Walt never believed he had reached the public he definitely had. His name was used to sell everything from cigars and coffee to insurance. and his name and image have become an integeral part of popular culture. Under their heading “Popularizing Whitman” the LOC writes:

Whitman feared he had not reached the common people, but his name has been used to sell cigars, coffee, whiskey, and insurance. His poetry was distributed to workers during the Depression and to soldiers during World War II. In 1957 the Walt Whitman Bridge opened between Philadelphia and Gloucester City, New Jersey. His words are inscribed in such public places as Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. and Fulton Ferry Landing in lower Manhattan. His image has been in cartoons and on matchbooks, postcards, and stamps. His life has inspired televison episodes and motion pictures. Hotels, buildings, plazas, camps, parks, truck stops, corporate centers, schools, AIDS clinics, think tanks, and shopping malls now bear his name (http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/whitman-legend.html).

While Frank Hartmann was running Spark Cigars he was extremely active in worker’s unions. In fact, his shop was the first to use an all-union labor. Perhaps that’s one reason he chose Whitman to be his icon. Who better to represent unionized worker’s than a poet who is all about humanity and equality?

Hartmann’s use of Whitman as the face of cigars was not a one way deal. By using Whitman, Hartmann not only sold cigars, but helped to promote Leaves of Grass as well. In 1898 Hartmann created a label for his cigar box entitled “Walt Whitman Cigars: Blades O’ Grass”. This would entice the public to not only buy the cigars, but to read Leaves as well.

Blades O Grass 1898

Blades O Grass 1898

(image courtesy of LOC and Dr. Scanlon) full link to loc exhibit below.

Then in 19o1 lithographers Kaufmann and Strauss created a sign that also became a box label. And this time the ad contained a slogan “Whitman Cigars: A Poetic Comfort” The Kaufmann and Strauss label and lithograph sign mark the first official ad for Walt Whitman Cigars and the importance during the early 20th century of lithographers in advertising. According to the website Cigar Afficiando’s article “Sign of the Times”:

In a self-perpetuating and evolving cycle, these signs became effective in expanding the cigar industry and captured the work of respected artists. By spreading awareness and appeal, they sold more cigars, spurring the release of new brands, which resulted in the commissioning of more signs. This also led to greater competition among brands in the tobacconist’s displays and an even greater need for dynamic, eye-grabbing ads (Cigar Aficiando link provided below) The Whitman Ad is currently valued at $10,000 (Cigar Aficianado)

Below is a picture of a reproduction of a 1910 ad that was similar to the original 1901 image and also ran with the poetic comfort slogan.Whitman Cigars: A Poetic Comfort

Whitman Cigars: A Poetic Comfort

Whitman Cigars: A Poetic Comfort

 The previous label from 1898 contained the name of the product, “Blades O’ Grass”, but here we see an evolution in advertising, not only because the company used professional lithographers, but because they wrote a slogan that is not product centric, but taps into the personality of Whitman himself. Here Hartmann and Son is truly selling an image. They are tapping into the concept of Whitman as the lazy, comfortable poet. A man of men who might sit down and enjoy the occassional cigar. And therefore the public sees cigars as a way to relax, as a way to live the life of a poet for a couple of minutes.

Finally, in other news, the above image has become an emblem of popular culture. While Googling I discovered Whitman’s image emblazoned on t-shirts sold on a punk clothing website (they are actually sold on a few different sites). I have provided the link below for your viewing pleasure. The idea of Poetic Comfort has gone punk. Here’s a picture to entice your buying power.

Whitman goes Punk
Whitman goes Punk

 The shirt is available in 9 different colors, but i liked the red best! the full link to the site is below. Enjoy! And here’s to Whitman’s work remaining a part of our culture and Whitman himself remaining an icon.


Links Cited







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Erin M. for Oct 13th

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A True Account of War

The section of Whitman’s specimen days that we read for today provided us with a direct first hand account of war. Whitman told us of the lives of the soldiers, of his work as a nurse in the hospitals and on the field. He even provided us with a glimpse of the socio- politcal climate during wartime all while preserving the humanity of the experince, as always. Whitman titles this collection Specimen Days and at first glance a reader might think the title serves as a remembrance of the lost soliders (as in their bodies as specimens), which is a perfectly accurate reading of the title, but I think Whitman views the journal entries themselves as specimens. Every moment of the war that he saw fit to record was one that he saw as meaningful enough to take the time to analyze and think about in order to record his thoughts on the matter; just as a scientists analyzes various materials in a lab, Whitman analyzed the moments of battle and compiled his findings, his moments of humanity in Specimen Days.

In the entry titled “Contemptous Feeling” (731) Whitman mentions a conversation with the mayor of Brooklyn  in which the mayor said he “hoped the Southern fire-eaters would commit some overt act of resistance . . . but he was afraid they would never have the pluck to really do anything” (Whitman 731). Well, by recording his account of the war Whitman did do something he made sure there was a record of his history and his feelings about it. Today, I believe that most of our generation are politically apathetic, at least more so than previous generations, but Whitman reminds us here of the importance of our country and being active in the political process. It was during Whitman’s time that our country as it stands was formed.

But, as with all of Whitman’s writings, for me it is the human element that stands out the most. yes, there are accounts of battles, but the passages I found most notable were: “Unamed Remains the Bravest Soldier” (Whitman 748), “Home-made music” (755)”Death of a Hero” (768), “Deserters” (771), “Burial of a Lady Nurse”(778) and “Convulsivness” (799). I chose these works because they sort of encapsulate the emotional response to war. Whitman recognizes and honors the unknown casualties in unamed remains. The death of a young, but truly fearless soldier who mourns those he’s killed is dealt with in Death of a hero, while Deserters deals with the men that thought the could handle the fight, but found they were unable to, which reminds us how much the men who actually did fight were heros. In “Home-made music”, we are reminded of the things we do for comfort and relief. Everyone coming together and singing allows them to forget for a moment that they are at war. Burial of a Lady Nurse (and the following entry “Female Nurses for Soldiers”) expresses not only how important nurses were in the military, but the fact that Whitman is giving them attention in his account shows their importance in general is growing just a bit, it seems. War is definitely a masculine arena, so I felt it important to acknowledge that women were even recognized at all, even if it is just for the caring and nurturing touch as Whitman puts it. And finally, “Convulsiveness” is the single word that Whitman chose to sum up his account and it represents so many things here and is such an accurate choice. Society as a whole is shaken when we are part of a war, the energy on the battlefield I’d imagine can definitely be described as convulsive, but it’s also a word I might use when describing a grieving mother, or family or even fellow solider. So, in one word, Whitman was able to capture the energy of war itself and even the feelings of both society and the individual.

Erin M. for October 6th

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Among the many poems we read for this week’s reading, Whitman’s “Reconciliation” stood out to me beyond all the others. It wasn’t a straightforward statement of patriotism or a simple recount of a battle. “Reconciliation” humanizes the exprience of war. In the poem, Whitman crosses battle lines and mourns an opponent while at the same time appreciating the fact that the war has ended. He writes: “Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost” (Whitman p 453 line 2). He continues and seems almost glad that death has come; he sees it as a cleansing experience (line 3). But, it is the humanization of the speaker’s enemy that is most striking. “For my enemy is dead, a man as divine as myself is dead”, he says at line 4. Even in wartime Whitman’s love of equality is not stifled. The speaker sees his enemy as equal to him and even mourns his death and seems to wish him peace as he bends down and  kisses him in his coffin (line 6).

This poem made me wonder about war today. Do you think today’s soldiers see their opponent’s as equals and mourn their death? In a perfect world I would like to believe that at least occassionally soldiers take the time to mourn for those they’ve had to kill, in addition to those lost in their own units, but I just don’t know. Today our military is a strictly trained force; they are trained soley for the purpose of defeating the enemy, and in order to accomplish that task the military removes the human aspect from war. Not only do they deindividualized the men themselves by shaving their heads and having them all wear uniforms and go through the exact same training process in order for them to assume their role as soldier (yes i know the head shaving and training is also considered a bonding experience for the units.), but they also dehumanize the opponent by refering to them as “targets”.

However, during Whitman’s time the military wasn’t as fully formed as it is now. The men fighting were just that: men. They didn’t have formal training, so to speak and both sides were doing their best to fight for their country. The speaker may have even known his opponent. But, regardless whether he knew him or not he still took the time to recognize that he caused his death and to mourn him, despite the fact that they were defending opposite sides. This poem should reminds us that you can stand up for and defend your beliefs and even, literally, fight for them while still recognizing your opponent’s point of view. As he has done with all his work thus far, Whitman has reminded us of our human-ness and celebrated it. He recognizes our human spirit and capacity for love and equality even in wartime.

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