Chelsea for November 3

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All right, this post might be a bit of a stretch, but bear with me on some ideas I had/have about a difference between the 1855 Leaves of Grass and the 1892 Leaves of Grass, particularly in nuances between the two versions of “Song of Myself.”  In the 1855 version of this poem, Whitman names the months and days just as we would name them today: January and February and March, Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, etc.  However, in the 1892 version, Whitman rejects the use of these common names and instead replaces them with First-month, Second-month, First-day, Second-day, and so on.  In no place in the 1892 version of “Song of Myself” can be located the actual name of a month or day.

After noticing this, I started to poke around about the etymology and history of the months and days.  Although it seems that much is unknown about the history of these names, the most well-accepted origin and explanation is that the calendar as well as these divisions was established by the late Roman Empire, furthered by the Christian church, and widely assimilated into standardized use by the British Empire.  The days were originally named after Greek (and later substituted for Roman) gods.  Later, Germanic groups substituted similar gods for the Roman gods until the list became something like, Sun’s day, Moon’s day, Tiu’s day, Woden’s day, Thor’s day, Freya’s day, and Saturn’s day.  The Christian church maintained and encouraged the division of the seven day week as biblically, God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, the Jewish holy day the Sabbath, which is observed on Saturday. 

As for the months of the year, the calendar used today is often referred to as the “Christian calendar” although it was developed in pre-Christian Rome.  There are two main versions of the Christian calendar: the Julian and the Gregorian calendars.  Before this, the original Roman calendar had ten months: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December.  The second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, added January, or Januarius, and February or Februarius around 700 BCE.  The names January, March, April, May, and June were, like the days of the week, developed from the names of gods.  The names of the other months developed as follows: February stems from Februa, the Roman festival of purification, July, which Julius Caesar named after himself, August, which Augustus Caesar named after himself, and September, October, and December which (less creatively) simply mean seventh month, eighth month, ninth month, and tenth month, after their original placements on the Roman calendar. 

Head spinning yet? Good, mine too.  Now, for where I’m going with all of this; I find it fascinating that Whitman would reject the use of these common names in his final version of “Song of Myself.”  Perhaps I’m overanalyzing the heck out of this, but I feel that if I am right about this conscious effort to change the names, a probable motive could be Whitman’s attempt to wipe the slate clean of all history that America took from Europe, even something as seemingly mundane as day and month names.  It could also be a try at truly encouraging religious freedom.  By rejecting the use of one historical religion (whether the polytheistic Roman faith or the monotheistic Christian one) as a governance over society in any way, even in a mere commonly assimilated set of names, Whitman opens the door wide to a nation of true religious tolerance.  In naming the days and months by numbers instead of by gods or by Christian systems, Whitman is sets at accomplishing this little by little.  

Furthermore, God seems to play a very different role for Whitman in the 1892 version and thereby furthers my argument that Whitman is truly attempting widespread religious freedom.  In many of the places where God was aiding Whitman in the 1855 version, He is either completely removed or replaced by something or someone else.  For instance, in the 1855 “Song of Myself,” Whitman writes, “As God comes a loving bedfellow and sleeps at my side all night and close on the peep of the day,” (29) but in 1892 the passage is altered to, “As the hugging and loving bed-fellow sleeps at my side through the night, and withdraws at the peep of the day with stealthy tread” (191).  Similarly in 1855 he writes, “I visit the orchards of God and look at the spheric product” (63) and in 1892, “I visit the orchards of spheres and look at the product.”  Removing God in these ways, as well as reshaping Him throughout the text allows Whitman to, again, open up LoG to become something relatable to all individuals, no matter what faith or cultural background.  It is not so much that I think Whitman has altered his beliefs about religion as it is that I believe he is attempting to do a better job of disallowing the way he was religiously educated to interfere with the true religious freedom America was supposed to be founded on.


If you are interested in information about the days and calendar, I got a lot of my information from these sites:

2 Responses to “Chelsea for November 3”

  1. bcbottle Says:
    Avatar of bcbottle

    This is a fascinating post, the change of months hadn’t even occurred to me. I think the idea of Whitman attempting to alter the role religion plays in America, and his own life, is a strong one. particularly after the interview we read where he said he believed America would develop into a religious nation but one lacking in the sectarianism so common in those days.

    I have to wonder how much his view of God and religion was altered by the horrors he witnessed during the war.

  2. jpike1 Says:
    Avatar of jpike1

    I didn’t get to comment on this last week, but I wanted to tell you how interesting this post was. It really affected the way I looked at the differences between the 1855 and 1892 Leaves of Grass. I too noticed the absence of the months and weekdays and you provided a thought provoking reflection as to why Whitman would remove them. Was Whitman that obsessed with becoming a “new” America and rejecting the European traditions? Or was he merely trying to make the 1892 poem more universal? I really enjoyed this post!

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