Exploring Whitman

Just another Looking for Whitman weblog

Jessica for September 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — August 30, 2009 @ 10:51 pm

To be honest, I do not have much background knowledge of Walt Whitman or his works. However, after reading the preface to Leaves of Grass and “Song of Myself” I was overwhelmed at the powerful connection I felt to this poem. The speaker immediately establishes an intimate relationship with the reader and states, “And what I assume you shall assume” (27). After reading these lines in the opening stanza, I deduced that Walt Whitman himself was the speaker of Leaves of Grass. This command like nature of this line placed Walt Whitman, as the speaker, in a position of authority. Accordingly, the reader is looking up to Whitman for guidance, advice, and insight. But, since each reader takes a unique approach to the poem Whitman must find something with which people will relate to and he must establish creditability. Thus, through Whitman’s description of himself, the reader is able to recognize similar characteristics, thoughts, feelings, and emotions and can connect to the poem.

The constant repetition of “I am, I breathe, I meet, I live, I believe…” exposes innermost characteristics of the speaker and allows for trust in his authority. Taking this trust into a deeper level, readers can draw parallels to the biblical nature of the language that the speaker uses throughout “Song of Myself”. For example, Jesus as the all knowing prophet stated, “I am the vine, you are the branches; He that Abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”  Throughout the ages people have put their trust in God and feel his powerful presence. Therefore, the speaker mimics this biblical speech to further establish trust with the reader.

Like God, Whitman makes promises to his audience and writes, “You shall possess the good of the earth and sun” (28). This line is similar to Matthew 5.5 “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Furthermore, like God, Whitman references all people throughout the poem. Women, men, slaves, children, and people of different occupations are constant images. Yet, Whitman does not say that he is God. Rather, Whitman references God throughout the poem. However, since many individuals have some background knowledge about God and the Bible This religious presence further allows readers to connect to the piece.

However, when the speaker addresses himself by stating, “Walt Whitman, an American” (50) this line challenged my original assumption that Whitman himself was the speaker. After reading this line and continued to see the religious parallels, I thought that the speaker was another part of Walt Whitman. Much like the trinity, Jesus being the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, another essence of Whitman was the speaker. Whitman “the man” is a part of the speaker but does not have the same authority as Walt Whitman’s poetic voice. The speaker continues to describe himself as “the poet of the soul” (46), which creates the image of Walt Whitman’s inner soul speaking to readers. This Whitman biblical soul wants readers to trust in his authority, take his hand, and continue on to the journey of experiencing “The Leaves Of Grass”. So, let us continue on this path.

Jessica’s Final Project

Filed under: Uncategorized — December 10, 2009 @ 11:05 am

Womanly Whitman

Where I Found Whitman

Filed under: Uncategorized — November 16, 2009 @ 12:58 am

Film Location: Sunken Road in front of the original stone wall where the Battle of Fredericksburg was fought. In the background is The Angel of Marye’s Heights monument.

Was the wind piping the pipe of death under the black clouds? (428)
During this reading the wind certainly was!

Jess Pike for November 17

Filed under: Uncategorized — November 16, 2009 @ 12:25 am

“I announce a man or woman coming, perhaps you are the one, (So long!) (610)

This line from Whitman’s final poem in the deathbed edition of Leaves of Grass, So Long!, can be interpreted in a countless number of ways. So, after this weeks readings, I feel that each of the poets are striving to be “the one”. “The one” would be the next great grey poet who would continue Whitman’s legacy. Higgins explains that Whitman was revolutionary in the literary world because Whitman made sex and the body within poetry possible, he was the first major poet whose major works were created using free verse, he utilized everyday images and experiences, and he created the example of the American poet as a prophet (Higgins 440). Although aspects of these four legacies can be seen in all of the poets we had to read for today, in this post I am going to look specifically at the poet Carl Sandburg. So, although Carl Sandburg did not give any personal “shout outs” to Walt Whtiman like Federico Garcia Lorca did in “Ode to Walt Whitman”, Carl Sandburg echoes Whitman’s revolutionary style.

One of the most noticeable literary devices that both Carl Sandburg and Whitman utilized was free verse. Also, when looking at “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg and comparing it to Whitman’s “Mannahatta”, readers can see that Sandburg, like Whitman, uses lists to capture the image of both cities. Sandburg immediately creates a visual picture of the residents of Chicago by listing occupations “Hog Butchter”, “Tool maker”, “Stacker of Wheat”. Whitman also uses lists throughout “Mannahatta” and describes the people as “immigrants”, “ship-merchants”, and “money brokers” (585). In class we have discussed how Whitman’s listing is often thought of as excessive and how we can just skim the catalogs of names. However, Carl Sandburg must have found this tool necessary in order to get his message to readers.

Another similarity between both writers is their prophet like voice. In Sandburg’s “Grass”, he announces “I am the grass; I cover all”. Just like Whitman who claims he is the “poet of commonsense and of the demonstrable and of immortality” (48). Another poem of Sandburg’s that was not included in this weeks reading, but demonstrates Sandburg’s prophetic voice is “I Am The People, The Mob”.  Sandburg, like Whitman tries to speak to and represent the masses. In this poem Sandburg writes, “Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?” Both writers demonstrate how the written word is powerful, has answers, and can withstand time.

Whitman and Sandburg also personally address the reader. Whitman creates intimacy with his audience by using words such as “you” “dear reader”. Similarly, in “Chicago” and “I Am The People, The Mob”, Sandburg uses “you” and “your”. Whitman and Sandburg also write in the first person. Since both writers begin lines with “I” both writers are demonstrating their powerful presence within the poem itself. Furthermore, the “I” repetition in Sandburg’s “I Am The People, The Mob” echoes Whitman’s “I” repetition in “Song of Myself”. By using the first person, both writers reveal their observations, ideas, and hopes for America. The personal pronoun, I, also adds to their prophetic nature, because they seem to have the secrets and knowledge about humanity and the world.

Whitman’s presence is evident in Carl Sandburg’s work. Although Sandburg wrote during the early and mid 1900’s, Whitman’s legacy is still alive in his works. In his article, Higgins demonstrates how Whitman did contain multitudes and how Whitman continues to contain multitudes through the works of later poets. I feel that Whitman would be proud to know that his legacy is still alive today and that his written words are certainly immortal.

Jess for November 10th

Filed under: Uncategorized — November 8, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

As I have argued in previous posts, I classify Walt Whitman as a perfectionist. Viewing Whitman’s journals and notebooks up close at the Library of Congress, we saw the blotches of ink that had crossed out words and phrases and places where Whitman scribbled new ideas over the paper. Even in his letters to his friends and family, Whitman wrote multiple versions. Now that we have examined the different editions of Leaves of Grass and compared the alterations that were made to each edition, these changes support my conclusion that Whitman wanted to produce the best possible version of his work. Whitman upheld the value of the 1891-92 edition and said, “I wish to say that I prefer and recommend this present one, complete, for future printing, if there should be any” (148). But, does this statement mean that readers of Whitman today should view this edition as the definitive edition?

In all three editions of Song of Myself Whitman calls himself the “poet of the soul”. But each edition is written at a different stage of Whitman’s life. So, Whitman’s own soul and ways of thinking about the world around him was changed during each stage. In the 1855 edition Whitman was a confident 36 years old full of adventure and ready to embrace the world and spread his message. But in 1867 Whitman was in his late forties and had experienced the horrors of the Civil War. This soul of Whitman was battered, bruised, and uncertain about the future of America. And finally when it came to the 1891-92 edition Whitman was nearing his death and was coming to a realization that his writings would be the only thing to outlive him. So, this Whitman was more like a reflective old man teaching the younger generations. But, throughout each edition Whitman did not lose his hope for the American people to embrace his message. And most importantly, in each edition Whitman created an intimate atmosphere for readers to connect with him.

The reading that I focused on this week was “Good-Bye My Fancy.” .In the introduction to the Second Annex; Whitman personally addresses the reader and describes his state of both his mind and body during the time he wrote this “deathbed” edition. Whitman acknowledges his failing health but also notes the “sunny –fine” days where he feels “like a kid or kitten”. In Good-Bye My Fancy on page 639, Whitman makes a note that “Good-Bye” also marks the start of a new beginning. So although Whitman is approaching his death he realizes he is not ready to die just yet, and tells readers that this poem will not be written yet. The second part to this poem is found on page 654 and is at the end of the Second Annex. Although this poem is one of his final messages to his readers, Whitman does not end in a somber tone; rather, it is filled with exclamation marks. The word Fancy in this poem can represent a love for someone or something. I would like to think that Whitman is personally addressing the readers that have been his audience for over thirty years.

Whitman never edits out his secrets of life and meaning in the different editions. Although words, phrases, punctuation, and format might be different, the overall message does not change. Whitman sees a hopeful future for his readers and wants them to continue to discover new horizons. But the perfectionist Whitman wanted his readers to be provided with the best handbook, and thus choose his last book full of old age wisdom. Whitman never forgot he was the poet of the soul. So now the question that you have to ask yourself is, what soul of Whitman do you want to read?

Intersection of Past and Present

Filed under: Uncategorized — November 8, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

Starting off October 3rd at the Fredericksburg Visitors Center, our tour guide made a statement that I have scribbled down in my notebook, “The lay of the land is important so generations to come can better understand” and next to this I wrote, “Whitman would like this!”

So, I thought I would focus on this statement and how we, as a class, began to appreciate the nature and physical space that Whitman so eloquently describes throughout Leaves of Grass. We first stopped in front of the map of the Battle of Fredericksburg. Now although I can not stand to look at maps and am the most directionally challenged individual, I tried my best to really understand and look at the map in order to better understand what Whitman saw when he was here in Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg Battlefield map

Fredericksburg Battlefield map

Continuing down the winding dirt road trail on Sunken road, the intersection between past and present began to take place. On the exact grounds where we were standing, hundreds of Union soldiers marched, hid, drilled, and died. Although these soldiers are gone, the grass itself still remains. I can read and listen to the facts about the Civil War, but until I actually walked on the land that the fighting took place, saw the bullets on the Innis house, and leaned against the stone wall that stood as a barrier between the Union and Confederate soldiers, I could not grasp what the Civil War actually was.

The Sunken Road path and stone wall

The Sunken Road path and stone wall

The Innis House

The Innis House

At the Chatham house, when I saw the preserved graffiti that a wounded soldier had etched into the wooden walls, the images that Whitman wrote about throughout his war journals came alive. The Chatham house itself was a physical reminder of the Civil War past.

The Chatham House

The Chatham House

Graffiti etched into the wall by a Civil War soldier

Graffiti etched into the wall by a Civil War soldier

In the photograph of the Chatham House you can see the ghost columns that supported the old porch are clearly visible. This physical change demonstrates the impact and change that the Civil War had over all aspects of life, even the change in architecture.

Walking down Sunken road and standing on the grass overlooking Fredericksburg at Chatham, it is easy to see that our tour guide’s statement is true. In order for us to better understand what occurred throughout history, we can not merely read about it in the books. Rather, one must go out, observe, and experience the physical locations of historical events. I think Whitman would have been proud of us for beginning the journey of understanding and appreciating nature and the land around us.

Searching for Whitman in DC

Filed under: Uncategorized — November 8, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

Walking back to my apartment on October 24th, 2009 after twelve hours of “Whitman Searching” in the DC rain, my body was tired and aching but my mind was racing because I had discovered a new dimension to Whitman that I had never experienced before. Walt Whitman was once a name that I would glance over in a book, the name “Whitman” would blend into Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the millions of other American canonical authors. But after trudging through the streets of DC the name Walt Whitman would was no longer a historical author who wrote American poetry, but, finally for me, he was an actual human being just like you or I.

Sometimes when we talk in class about Whitman, I feel as though we are honoring this perfect nonhuman being. Prior to the field trip, it was hard for me to fathom the fact that Whitman was someone who had human faults and weaknesses. Rather, I always believed Whitman was this ideal prophet-like individual with awe inspiring ideas and who could foresee the future of America.

The picture of the Bust of Whitman created by S.H. Morse and the street sign depicted my view of Whitman prior to the field trip.


I thought of Whitman as this statue like person who was greater both physically and mentally than any other human. I associated Whitman as a Moses like figure leading his people. At the same time however, Whitman’s names was still associated as a “historical figure” who happened to be recognized for his talents and who like many other famous individuals had streets and buildings named after him.

But, this misconstrued idea of Whitman was slowly broken down throughout the day. Walking down Constitution Ave, standing at Freedom Plaza, and entering into the grand Willard Hotel I began to see how Whitman too had to walk these same streets. Although DC in 2009 is much different than the DC Whitman experienced from 1863-1873, these lines from Brooklyn Ferry stand out in my mind when trying to put into words how Whitman’s humanity was discovered.

“Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the
bright flow, I was refresh’d”

This discovery of the human Whitman continued as I saw firsthand Whitman’s personal possessions. Although I was deeply moved at the unveiling of the haversack, what captivated my attention the most was Walt Whitman’s glasses and pen.


This picture of Whitman’s glasses show how Whitman had physical ailments and was affected by the outside world around him. The right eye is frosted over and as Barbara Bair, the librarian at the Library of Congress told us, his loss of eyesight in an eye could have been due to the multiple strokes that Whitman had during the later years of his life. So seeing these glasses made me realize that Whitman although brilliant was not perfect.

The pen is a reed that was Whitman’s in 1891. The simple reed pen, changed my perception of how Whitman did not miraculously create his works, but rather, he tirelessly labored pen in hand over paper. Much like what we, as students, do today. So, although Walt Whitman’s work is under the category of canonical American literature, Whitman is no longer a name to me. After this trip Whitman is human just like you and I.

Jessica for November 3rd

Filed under: Uncategorized — November 1, 2009 @ 11:09 pm

After viewing Whitman’s war journals and letters at the Library of Congress, I was taken aback at the extensive editing Whitman did. I even started to classify Whitman as a perfectionist. So, when looking at the 1891-92 Song of Myself compared to his first 1855 edition, I once again saw this perfectionist attitude shining through. This perfectionist attitude is demonstrated in the grammatical differences throughout both versions. However, despite the clean-up of the poem, Whitman’s hopes and visions for the nation did not drastically change. But, what did change was Whitman’s own self perception. The 73 year old Whitman now recognizes his mortality and no longer sees himself as the most powerful force for the American people. I believe that Whitman’s change in self perception is reflected in the grammatical changes and the removal/addition of words and phrases within both versions of Song of Myself.

When examining the changes in punctuation marks, the first thing that caught my attention was absence of ellipses in the 1891 version. Whitman instead replaced the ellipses with commas. This change can be seen in the difference between page 59 compared to page 219 and 220. In the 1855 edition, Whitman uses an excessive amount of ellipses to describe the travels that his vision takes him on and begins with the line, “My ties and ballasts leave me….I travel….I sail….my elbows rest in the seagaps”. Meanwhile on page 219 these similar lines are written as, “My ties and ballasts leave me, my elbows rest in sea-gaps.” The change from ellipses to commas and occasional dashes, give the poem a more clean and concise feel. As a man nearing his deathbed, Whitman was firm in his opinions and did not need to drag out what he was trying to say. So, perhaps Whitman is using this change in punctuation to demonstrate not only his perfectionist “clean up”, but also the change in a more definite and concise Whitman.

Also, throughout the 1891 edition, Whitman uses many more parentheses than in the first edition of SoM. I would say that Whitman’s asides, personal comments, and feelings are expressed through the usage of these parentheses. Rather than generalizing his thoughts and opinions, Whitman makes a clear distinction of his opinions and attitudes by using the parentheses. The words within the parentheses are included in the 1855 edition, but because they are not separated by the parentheses, there is less attention given to them. So, Whitman as a perfectionist must have wanted readers to focus on what was included within the parentheses and make a distinction between those thoughts that are in the parentheses and the rest of the poem. To really see this, let us look at page 39 and pages 200/201. On page 200, Whitman uses parentheses to describe the lunatic and writes, “The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirm’d case, (He will never sleep any more as he did n the cot in his mother’s bed-room). Yet, on page 39, Whitman combines both thoughts about the lunatic and does not separate by parentheses. This subtle change can tell us a lot about the self perception that Whitman is trying to reflect in the later edition. Perhaps Whitman in the later edition wanted to provide readers with his personal first-hand knowledge, experiences, and opinions and used this punctuation mark to do so. Whitman was older and as the saying goes, with age comes wisdom, so by using the parentheses, Whitman could freely express and make clear the wisdom he believed to have.

Also, Whitman did not use as many exclamation marks in the 1891 edition. This can be seen when looking at page 48 and 208. In Whitman’s earlier edition when describing the sea Whitman writes, “Sea of stretched ground-swells! Sea of breathing broad and convulsive breaths!” However, in the later edition, Whitman replaces the exclamation points with commas. This change in punctuation mark could demonstrate Whitman’s reflective tone and nature. Whitman did not need to use exclamation points to shout out his message, because most of the public was aware of Walt Whitman and this work. Therefore, in the later edition Whitman wanted to remind readers of the importance of his message and ideas, but, it was not as urgent and commanding as the 1855 edition.

Furthermore, Whitman demonstrates his change of self-perception by leaving out references of him being immortal. When Whitman was 37, Whitman expressed his immortality and wrote, “I am the poet of commonsense and of the demonstrable and of immortality” (Whitman 48). However, in the 1891 edition, Whitman does not even include this line in SoM. I feel this absence clearly demonstrates Whitman’s change of perception of his body as being immortal. Whitman is dying and knows that his body will not live in this world. Therefore, Whitman edits out this line in the later edition.

Although Whitman knows that his body will not live, Whitman considers his written words to be immortal. Thus, his message of hope and direction for the American people does not change from the first edition to the last. Whitman writes in both version of the poem about turning and living with animals. In this section there are no changes in punctuation or addition/subtraction of words. I feel this section demonstrates how Whitman wants the American people to live. Whitman likes how the animals do not complain about their position in society, do not excessively discuss their duty toward God, are not materialistic, and are not unhappy. In this section, it is as if Whitman wants the American people to be simple like the animals. Since there was no change in this section, Whitman’s vision of the American people did not change. Although Whitman personally experienced change in his own perception, his hope for the American people remained the same.

Jessica Pike for October 27th

Filed under: Uncategorized — October 25, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

Obviously Whitman loved Abraham Lincoln. Countless lines of Whitman’s poetry, prose, journals, and lectures describe a deep admiration and love for the “Martyr Chief”. However, as I read Whitman’s expression of his love for Lincoln in the “Memories of President Lincoln” poems, I have to wonder if the love for Lincoln could be compared to a celebrity ideal with whom he felt like he knew and could relate to, ( because Whitman too had celebrity status)? Or if the love that Whitman felt was more of a Christ-like worshiping? As we have discussed previously in class and in numerous blogs, Whitman did not give readers a clear depiction of his purpose in writing. So, when it comes to Whitman’s relationship with Lincoln as depicted in Whitman’s works, it is unclear what kind of “love” Whitman had for Lincoln.

Nevertheless, let us first look at Whitman’s love for Lincoln in a mutual “we are both famous, I respect, admire, and can relate to you” way.  In Whitman’s lecture on Lincoln delivered in Boston in 1881, Whitman describes his first encounter with Lincoln, and places Lincoln in a celebrity role. Whitman lists Lincoln among other historical figures, but then uses the word “celebres” to describe the Lincoln that he observes. Analyzing this scene that Whitman describes, it is almost as if Whitman is in awe over the powerful presence that Lincoln, as President-elect, had over the crowd of thirty to forty thousand. Although Whitman states that he saw Lincoln “often” during the four years following the crowd scene, for some reason Whitman admits that this first meeting stood at the forefront of his mind and best represented the “genius”. However, the mere fact that Whitman was giving a lecture on Lincoln, places Whitman in the category of someone that is a genius enough to capture the essence of Lincoln. Even in Whitman’s description of the crowd, Whitman acknowledges that it would take four geniuses Plutarch, Eschylus, Michel Angelo, and Rabelais to capture the physical resemblances of Whitman’s portrait. Yet, Whitman thought he was capable of describing the death and essence of Lincoln in his lectures, therefore placing himself on an all-knowing celebrity like status.

But, it is important to remember that the mutual celebrity status was not the only thing that Whitman and Lincoln had in common, Whitman could relate to Lincoln’s goal of improving America and the American people. As a leader of the Union, Lincoln wanted a united front and a united people. Similarly, Whitman wanted a better America where individuals would be able to live and take up any “open road” that they choose. So, perhaps, Whitman was trying to continue Lincoln’s legacy in the only way he new how, through the written and spoken word.

On the other hand, looking at Whitman’s relationship with Lincoln in a worshiping Christ-like figure way, there can be many parallels drawn. Although, the scholar Erkkila argues that Whitman avoids the Lincoln-Christ symbolism in writing When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, I disagree with this statement and feel that there are obvious connections between the symbols throughout the poem and Christ. First, the “great star” immediately reminds me of the star of Bethlehem that leads the shepherds and kings to Jesus birthplace. This “powerful western fallen star” used in Whitman’s poem also leads the reader to Lincoln and his death. Furthermore, the description of the coffin passing through the lanes and streets invokes the image of Christ carrying the cross among the ancient streets knowing fully well that he will be crucified. Furthermore, in the poem This Dust Was Once the Man, Whitman describes Lincoln as “gentile and plain” which are common descriptors of Jesus. Also, the title of the poem corresponds with Genesis 3:19, “Since from it you were taken for dust you are and dust you will return.” This short poem demonstrates that Whitman was aware of religion and the self scarifying nature of both Christ and Lincoln.

Material Culture Museum Entry: Musical Instruments And Their Songs

Filed under: Uncategorized — October 20, 2009 @ 2:36 pm
Civil War Fife

Civil War Fife

Civil War Banjo

Civil War Banjo

Jew's Harp

Jew's Harp


Bealeton, Va. Drum corps, 93d New York Infantry

Throughout the Civil War, music played a significant part in soldiers’ daily lives. According to Aaron Sheehan-Dean in his work, The View From the Ground Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, songs persuaded men to enlist, comforted them during battle, entertained them in camp, supported them during drill and march, and reminded them of home (Sheehan-Dean 73). For both Union and Confederate soldiers, music provided an outlet to express their deepest fears and frustrations with the war. In addition, music also established necessary order and routine in the Civil War camps (Sheehan-Dean 74). The influence of these war time instruments and songs affected the soldiers living in 1861-1865, and even today the civil war music influences the way we as an American people celebrate our national pride and history.

During the start of the Civil War, every regiment, which was made up of about 800-1200 men, was allowed to have a band of about sixteen musicians who were required to supply their own instruments. However, after the disastrous defeat of Union forces at the first battle of Bull Run, Congress decided that the Northern bands of musicians would only be allowed for the brigades which were made up of about 2,500-3,000 men (Rosengren 193). Two the widely recognized Union bands include the 7th New York Regimental Band and the 24th Massachusetts Regimental Band. Although marching brass bands were a newer concept during the time of the Civil War, both the North and the South believed these bands were essential to war. Confederate General Robert E. Lee recognized the importance of military bands and stated, “I cannot imagine war without Bands and music” (201). There were even times when the armies were not fighting that the Yankee and Rebel Bands would engage in a battle of the band music competition. In addition, many of the officers felt that the music played by the bands were important to maintain a high morale for the men (191). There were also more informal musical opportunities for the Civil War soldiers, and many soldiers brought along violins, banjos, guitars, spoons, and the Jew’s harp and played them for amusement during down time (Madden 88).

Many of the musical instruments were used to establish a schedule for a soldier’s day. David Madden in his book, Beyond the Battlefield the Ordinary Life and Extraordinary Times of the Civil War Soldiers reinforces this fact by including an excerpt from a Union soldier’s diary entry which states, “At five, the drummers and fifers, whilst the stars still shine, march around camp beating drums. Sleep is frightened from every eye; a stir, a bustle in every tent” (Madden 61). The fife and drum were common musical instruments used to establish order within army life. These instruments signaled the start of the soldiers’ day with the playing the morning Reveille, announced meal times, assembled the troops together, controlled marching exercises, and signaled lights out at night. Normally fifers and drummers were young boys between the ages of twelve to sixteen (Clark 31). As defined by the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, a fife is a small high pitched flute, normally wooden, that has six to eight finger holes. The fife was first used for military music in the late fifteenth century by Swiss regiments serving in France (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 1). Meanwhile, the drum is a percussion instrument that has a cylindrical or conical frame which is covered by a skin like material (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 1). During the Civil War, rope tension drums were most commonly used. These drum frames were made out of wood and the head of the drum were made from calfskin and tightly stretched with ropes (Madden 63). As the Civil War years continued, both the fife and the drum became more than just musical tools to establish order, but they also became symbols associated with American patriotism (Clark 31).

Another instrument used during the Civil War was the Jew’s harp. The name of this instrument is not derived from any relationship with Judaism. The Jew’s harp is a small ancient instrument made up of a metal frame that holds a flexible metal tongue. To produce sound the small metal frame is held between the teeth and the metal tongue is plucked to produce a note. Although there is only one tone that is heard when playing the Jew’s harp, there are different tongues which allow for additional tones (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 1). During the Civil War, these instruments were often seen during informal musical times in the camp (Madden 88). Another instrument associated with the Civil War is the banjo. This musical instrument derived from Africa and was brought over to the New World on board slave ships. Therefore, the early development of the banjo reflects the complex relationship between African Americans and Caucasians before the Civil War (Shaw 88). The traditional banjo is wooden and has a round-bottomed body that is hollowed out with dried animal skin stretched over the top of the body creating a chamber for echoes. There is also a longer wooden “neck” with strings that is attached to the hollow chamber. The number of strings on a banjo varies but, many contain one shorter string that is played as a drone (Shaw 84).

Since music was valued during the Civil War, the music publishing industry in the North and South was stimulated. There was more of an influence in the North because music business was more developed. Yet soldier on both sides aided the music publishing industry because many times the soldiers would carry around song books (Moseley 41). One soldier makes reference to the song books in his journal and writes, “We kept song books with us and passed much of our leisure time singing” (48). Popular songs among the Civil war soldiers included,  “All Quiet along the Potomac” “Home, Sweet Home” “The Girl I left Behind”, “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “My Old Kentucky Home”, “The Old Canteen”, and “The Union Right or Wrong” (Madden 89).

Although both the North and the South showed an appreciation for music and songs, the songs that stemmed from both sides were very different in patriotic message and tone. “Bonnie Blue Flag” was written by Harry McCarthy in 1861 and was the Southerners’ anthem. Meanwhile, the Northerners’ anthem was “Battle Cry of Freedom” written in 1862 by the composer George F. Root. In these song lyrics, the Union asserted their reason for fighting the war which was to preserve the national union.  Meanwhile, the Confederates also stressed their reason of fighting, which was to fight for its rights (Mosely 48). Also, many of the Southern patriotic songs used lyrics filled with the notion of chivalry and feudalism. On the other hand, the Northerners made fun of the Southern songs by sarcastically mentioning chivalry (49). Through songs the North and the South lambasted each other. For example, Southern songs referenced their enemy and referred to them as Yankee despot, foul mudsills, bootblacks, vagabonds, and Northern scum (Sheehan-Dean 75).

Since Walt Whitman was in Virginia and Washington D.C. at the height of the Civil War, he was able to witness the soldiers’ daily lives. Therefore, Whitman witnessed how music was used as a medium to express fears and frustrations of the War, glorify the nation, and for entertainment. In Whitman’s Drum Taps many references are given to the high esteem that music held for both the Northern and Southern armies. The title itself “Drum Taps” demonstrates the importance of music during the Civil War.

Work Cited

Clark, Jim. “The Fife and Drum In America.” Pan The Flute Magazine 27.4 (2008): 29-34. .          Academic Search Complete. Univ. of Mary Washington Lib., Fredericksburg, VA.     18 October 2009 <http://web.ebscohost.com>.

Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. “Drums and Fife, in music” 6.( 2009): 1: MasterFile    Premier. Univ. of Mary Washington Lib.,        Fredericksburg, VA. 18 October        2009 <http://web.ebscohost.com>.

Madden, David. Beyond The Battlefield The Ordinary Life And Extraordinary Times Of The Civil War Soldiers. New York: Touchstone, 2000.

Moseley, Caroline. “Irrepressible conflict: Differences between Northern and Southern     songs in the Civil War.” Journal of Popular Culture 25 (1991):  40-52. Academic      Search Complete. Univ. of Mary Washington Lib.,             Fredericksburg, VA. 18 October        2009 <http://web.ebscohost.com>.

Rosengren, William. “Regimental Bands of the Civil War.” Journal of American and         Comparative Cultures 24 (2001): 191-205. RILM. Univ. of Mary Washington Lib.,     Fredericksburg, VA. 18 October 2009 < http://web.ebscohost.com>.

Shaw, Robert and Szeed, Peter. “The Early Banjo.” Magazine Antiques. 164 (2003). 82-89.           Academic Search Complete. Univ. of Mary Washington Lib.,   Fredericksburg,           VA. 18 October 2009 <http://web.ebscohost.com>.

Sheehan-Dean, Aaron. The View From The Ground experiences of Civil War Soldiers.      Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007.

Silber, Irwin. Songs Of The Civil War. New York: Columbia University Press: 1960.

Image Citation

“Civil War Fife” Civil War Academy. Web. 20 October 2009

The Library of Congress. “Bealeton, Va. Drum corps” Web. October 2009.

“Banjo” About Banjos. Web. 20 October 2009

Jessica Pike for October 20th

Filed under: Uncategorized — October 18, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

I feel that Morris truly brought alive the Walt Whitman that arrived at the Lacey House during the height of the Civil War. The description of Whitman that was portrayed throughout “The Better Angel” and Calder’s “Personal Recollections of Walt Whitman” was a man that was a selfless individual who felt a calling to assist the wounded soldiers. However, this calling was by no means a religious calling. Morris makes it clear that Whitman did not have a religious motive when visiting the soldiers and even mentions that Whitman “did not bring any tracts or Bibles” (Morris 109). Yet, as described by Morris and Calder, Whitman daily made it a priority to visit these soldiers and doing so put his own health and money on the line. So, as after reading the letters and articles for today, questions about Whitman’s motives were running through my head. I thought why would Whitman do this? What did he get out of interacting with the wounded soldiers? Then, two sentences from Calder answered this question for me: “Humanity in all conditions and exhibitions was profoundly dear to him. A human being was an object of love, and it gratified him that these men and boys loved him, and depended on him” (Calder 207). Whitman saw in both these wounded soldiers and his readers an outlet where people would depend on him and where his self-worth and ideas would be valued. At the same time however, Whitman was dependent upon his readers and the wounded soldiers.

From the readings on the blog and Whitman’s own poetry and prose, it is evident that Whitman wanted to connect to his readers. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the direct references of “You” and “I” almost make it seem that Whitman is having a reflective conversation with readers. In all of Whitman’s writings, he discusses his thoughts and feelings regarding his current situation and the world around him and without an audience, he would be unable to do so. So, as much as Whitman wanted readers to be dependent on him, Whitman was relying on the reader as an outlet where he could express his views, observations, and opinions. Likewise, through his writings Whitman was able to have a relationship with his readers, where they were dependent on him to give the facts of what was occurring in Virginia during the Civil War. Although this view was only a personalized glimpse of what only he experienced, today, readers are still dependent upon Whitman’s writings in his journal entries, letters, and Drum Taps in order to understand the atrocities that were occurring in the Civil War makeshift hospitals.

At the same time, as noted by Calder, when Whitman was going from bed to bed visiting the wounded, Whitman took joy in knowing that the soldiers depended upon him. The praises such as what Colonel Richard Hilton said regarding Whitman, “When this old heathen came and gave me a pipe and tobacco, it was about the most joyous moment of my life” (Morris 109) must have provided Whitman with that strength to visit and maintain relationships with the wounded and dying soldiers. So, although the soldiers were dependent upon Whitman’s presence and gifts, Whitman was equally dependent upon the soldiers. Morris mentions how Whitman also benefited from these visits and states, “His hospital visits were good therapy for him-as much as the soldiers…they restored his belief in the inherent good of the American people” (Morris 100). Whitman saw in these soldiers an America where people would die in order to stand up for what they believed in. As reflected in Drum Taps, Whitman had a hopeful vision of what America would be like after the Civil War, and these soldiers reinforced his optimistic outlet towards a changed America.

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