Image Gloss: Stevedore

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“The judge with hand tight to the desk, his shaky lips pronouncing a death-sentence,

The heave’e’yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves

…the refrain of the anchor-lifters…”

~ Leaves of Grass, page 54

This portion of the poem, in which Whitman describes various sounds, is probably my favorite in the entire piece. Even though these particular sounds would be jarring (alarm bells, workpeople laughing, steam-whistles, etc.) there is something incredibly soothing about the way he writes about them. I’m sure it’s Whitman’s finesse with words that is responsible for what seems to be a contradiction, because the language and composition is as beautiful as the actual sounds are ugly.

But anyway, stevedores. The word is both a noun and verb, and relates to the process of loading/unloading cargo onto/from a ship. Below is a picture of a stevedore, hard at work:

I was drawn to the word because it was one I had never heard before, and I thought it looked and sounded cool. It sounds like a rich person’s yacht or something, so when I researched it, I was surprised to learn that stevedores are just blue collar workers. Whitman seems to exalt the working class not just in this section, but throughout the whole poem. If find that refreshing after reading so much poetry and literature that focuses so much on the lives of the aristocracy/privileged classes. I like that Whitman lauds the common man by writing about him in such elevated language.

One Response to “Image Gloss: Stevedore”

  1. janices Says:
    Avatar of janices

    Justin, Like this. I had no idea what a stevedore was. I like what you said about Whitman, especially the last paragraph.

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