What I Don’t Know About Whitman . . .

. . . could fill books. But I’m a little embarrassed to say, one nagging curiosity about his personal life I have is: all the adhesiveness and historical context aside, did he really get as close to other men as he seems to have, and never end up experiencing physical consummation with any of them? I guess that’s voyeuristic and petty, but I can’t get around it.

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And You Thought the 1855 Self-Reviews Were Brazen

Remember the passage in Whitman’s anonymous self-review “Walt Whitman, a Brooklyn Boy” that goes “Of pure American breed, of reckless health, his body perfect, free from taint top to toe, free forever from headache and dyspepsia, full-blooded, six feet high, a good feeder . . .”?

Check out this image of page 141 in the 1860 Leaves of Grass, starting at line 12 (he has apparently lost 5 pounds in the interim):

1860 cannibalized review page

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Facsimile of Emerson’s Letter

Also at the LOC is Emerson’s original letter, photos of which are available here. Hope they have it out for us in October! (Lots of other important stuff also shown on this page.)

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Whitman Notebooks at the Library of Congress

On October 24 we may be seeing some of the Harned Collection, pdf images of which are available at this site.

The notebooks are especially cool because they record some of the first known writing in Whitman’s mature poetic style:

notebook page

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Another University’s Annotated Whitman

We might have a look at this VCU project (sorry for the weird url–just scroll to the top) to get inspired or to get ideas of what we don’t want to do with our annotations.

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Whitman’s Self-Reviews

Once again, these articles just astound me. Not only is he brazen enough to lavish praise on his own book–he does this in a style that makes it obvious that he’s the author, sometimes lifting lines from his own Preface.

The Charvat reading for this week teaches us that it wasn’t so rare for an author or publishing house to self-review in the 1850s. We might say, too, that Whitman isn’t just telling us TO read Leaves of Grass but HOW to read it–in his own eyes, maybe, the reviews are actually educational and not just plugs.

Can you think of any other kinds of method to his madness? Do YOU think he’s just trying to sell more books?

Even beyond that, though, the question I keep coming back to is, why is it so important for the writer who has cast himself in the role of “America’s Poet” to keep emphasizing his own body? Let me leave with this passage from “Walt Whitman, a Brooklyn Boy”:

Of pure American breed, of reckless health, his body perfect, free from taint top to toe, free forever from headache and dyspepsia, full-blooded, six feet high, a good feeder, never once using medicine, drinking water only—a swimmer in the river or bay or by the seashore—of straight attitude and slow movement of foot—an indescribable style evincing indifference and disdain—ample limbed, weight one hundred and eighty-five pounds, age thirty-six years (1855)—never dressed in black, always dressed freely and clean in strong clothes, neck open, shirt-collar flat and broad, countenance of swarthy, transparent red, beard short and well mottled with white hair like hay after it has been mowed in the field . . .

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“Song of Myself” Openings

The first page of the poem, from all the major US editions of Leaves of Grass.\"Song\" slideshow

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The Trippy 1855 Preface

At first I was annoyed that I had to get a new copy of Whitman’s poetry and prose, but it’s been kind of cool to read through the preface without having to see my old notes. I know it gets long-winded sometimes (“No one ever wished it longer,” as Dr. Johnson said of Paradise Lost), but some lines really jump out:

The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature (5). [“The Americans of all nations”??? What gall!]

What is marvellous? what is unlikely? what is impossible or baseless or vague? after you have once just opened the space of a peachpit . . . (10).

The sea is not surer of the shore or the shore of the sea than [the poet] is of the fruition of his love and of all perfection and beauty (12).

The attitude of great poets is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots. The turn of their necks, the sound of their feet, the motions of their wrists, are full of hazard to the one and hope to the other (17).

As the attributes of the poets of the kosmos concentre in the real body and soul and in the pleasure of things they possess the superiority of genuineness over all fiction and romance (18). [Wait–did you just say “the pleasure of things”??? What’s THAT all about?]

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Radio Whitman

The interview Mara and I did for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities radio show With Good Reason has been broadcast and is now available at http://www.withgoodreasonradio.org/ . It’s a fairly general overview, largely about Whitman’s life during the Civil War, and clocks in at a friendly 16 minutes. On its heels is an interesting piece by Jerome McGann on E.A. Poe.

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Selected Civil War Era Maps of Fredericksburg

Our town around the time Whitman came here to look for his brother George, in late 1862.

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