Lincoln follows me home for Thanksgiving…

November 24th, 2009

Hey Whitmaniacs, I seriously doubted that I would be back on the blog within 3 hours of leaving class. But I couldn’t resist-

So Im sitting in my living room with my mom and sister, watching the History Channel special on the history of Thanksgiving…and who signed the proclamation establishing Thanksgiving? Old Abe.

I feel ya, Walt. Who wouldn’t have a crush on this man?

Here’s a link to the History Channel page.

Where I Found Whitman…

November 17th, 2009

Fredericksburg has been my home for many years. After a few years on what my parents have affectionately named my “East Coast College Tour,” I ended up back here, at UMW, the one college that I thought I would never attend. Sometimes this place can seem quite stale, but this semester I began to look at it in a whole new light. Once I put on my Whitman Goggles I began to see the majesty all around me. I have ridden horses in the area since I was a little girl. I now work at and keep my horse at a small farm with huge, rolling pastures about twenty minutes away from campus. The stables are my escape and I spent a lot of time alone out there soaking up nature and often doing my weekly Whitman reading. (Unfortunately, the lush green pastures are not equipped with WiFi so I had to do my blogging at home.)

A Song of the Rolling Earth

Courtney for 11/17

November 15th, 2009

It has been nearly impossible for me to categorize Whitman.  One week I read a poem and find myself completely overcome by inspiration; the next week I’m totally frustrated and just want to scream, “C’mon, Walt!  Get to the point already!”  I am beginning to see that it is the confliction that has made Walt so immensely popular over the years.  He has the ability to encompass everything, giving his readers endless chances to be inspired or enraged.  He is an American poet, a nature poet, a gay poet, a war poet, or a love poet (especially in the eyes of those that are particularly fond of Abe Lincoln).

This must be the appeal.  Ezra Pound perfectly describes the conflict of interpreting Whitman, saying that he “is an exceedingly nauseating pill, but he accomplishes his mission.”  Whitman’s endless effort to encompass everything and everyone makes him difficult to grasp sometimes, but it also allows nearly any reader to find something that seems to speak to him or her directly.  Old Walt was a smart guy, though.  He probably knew better than anyone his broad appeal, like in ‘Song of Myself,’ when he says, “I am the mate and companion of all people. Just as immortal and fathomless as myself, (They do not know how immortal, but I know.)”  Whitman is immortal, his legacy lives on the lives that he has touched and the works he has inspired.

The only selection that I was familiar with from this week’s readings was that of Allen Ginsberg.  The connection between these two men is pretty obvious: the beards, the prophetic self-images, and their “possibly-romantic-or-maybe-just-platonic” obsessions with their contemporaries.  However, my favorite poem from this week was “Ode to Walt Whitman” by Frederico Garcia Lorca.

I’ve been thinking about Whitman as an “American Poet” and I’ve decided that he does indeed fit the bill.  Here is this poet, Frederico.  He is a gay Latin-American poet living in America in the 1930s.  He picked up Leaves of Grass, and it spoke to him.  Whitman truly lived up to his promises of creating a comradeship of men from all different walks of life.  In his poem, Lorca evokes Whitman in both form and content.  I know I had a fellow Whitmaniac on my hands when I read,

“Not for a moment, Walt Whitman, lovely old man,

Have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies,

Nor your corduroy shoulders frayed by the moon,

Nor your thighs pure as Apollo’s,

Nor your voice like a column of ash,

Old man, beautiful as the mist…”

He calls Whitman “old man” twice in this short passage.  A term that I too have begun to use in reverence, picturing this old gray prophet dispensing wisdom down to his followers.  The repetition in the poem is something that I can easily recognize as taken from Whitman and the declarations and explanation points also hark back to our Whitman.

It’s pretty amazing to read the scope of works that have been inspired by our Walt.  Artists spanning several decades and walks of life create echoes of Whitman’s message.  Just as he predicted, he is indeed immortal and has become the voice of America.

Courtney for 11/10

November 8th, 2009

Before I get in to my official post, I’d like to make a quick comment about Longaker’s “The Last Sickness and the Death of Walt Whitman.”  First of all, definitely one of the creepiest things I’ve read in awhile.  It was so eerie following the process of Whitman’s slow decline.  In one passage, it would seem as though Whitman’s demise was waiting just around the corner, then there’d be a miraculous recover and he would hold on a for a few more weeks.  Longaker’s medical jargon contrasts strikingly with Whitman’s typical descriptions.  What Longaker describes as, “little or no athermanous degeneration ascertainable in the temporals or radials,” was in Whitman’s words, “a great wet, soggy net were spread out over me and holding me down.”  Anyone who has ever spent any sort of time in the care of medical professionals has probably experienced the confusion of feeling as though the doctors are speaking an entirely different language.  It is no surprise to me that Whitman did not allow himself to get lost in translation and instead found a way to express himself to his doctors in a way that they could both understand.

OK, now on to Leaves of Grass.  The Whitman that I see this week is an old, gray man.  He is losing his health and his cognitive abilities but clearly has no intention of throwing in the towel no matter how badly his health fails him.  I see his determination and possibly a hint of stubbornness in his refusal to give up and go quietly, although he has clearly accepted his mortality by the end of his life.  Whitman clearly began to see himself as a patient, recording his ailments with exactly the same poetic descriptiveness with which he had used to describe the ailments of his beloved wounded soldiers.

I was saddened to read that he could no longer handle going outside, and instead spent his hours in his bedroom, or as he referred to it, his “den,” surrounded by papers and notebooks.  I see this picture of Whitman, shuffling around his dark bedroom, sorting through papers and talking about his work with his aides and friends with steadily declining mental awareness.  I think that Whitman was at this time basically the same as he had always been in at least one major way: he was obsessed with his work and making something as perfect as it could possibly be.

I see the deathbed edition of Leaves of Grass as Walt’s final masterpiece.  I think that even at the end of his life, as loopy as he may have been, he was still thinking of Leaves as a work in progress.  I think that we can assume that the finished product was the result of a lifetime of careful tinkering and reworking.  Although Walt grew old and faded away, his work has lasted because of his obsessive attention to detail and his unwavering commitment to perfecting it throughout the entire course of his life.

Courtney for 11/3

November 1st, 2009

This passage occurs in both versions of ‘Song of Myself’-

Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much?

Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?

Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Well, have we?  I do feel like I, or I guess I should say, we, have been on a journey with the great grey poet for the past few months.  We have had to re-teach ourselves how to read in Whitman’s language, how to understand his rhetoric and how to interpret changes in his usual tone or subjects.  When we first met Walt, he was a cocky character smirking inside the cover of Leaves of Grass.  Early on it seemed as if he was his biggest fan.  In the 1855 version of ‘Song of Myself’ he admits, “I know perfectly well my own egotism, / And know my omnivorous words, and cannot say any less, / And would fetch you whoever you are flush with myself.”  This is the early Whitman, who proclaimed that America needed a great poet and that he was just the man for the job (meanwhile quietly altering the crotch region of his frontispiece.)

I know that I had trouble trudging through the idealistic language and the sprawling lists.  I mean, who exactly did this guy think he was?  I was inspired by his great hope for America and the potential he saw in the lowliest of people, but I have to admit: I wasn’t sure that I bought it.  Then, when the nation verged on falling apart and Whitman himself was surrounded by chaos, Whitman earned himself some much-needed street cred.

Sure, his early poetry is filled with language that hints at war.  He seemed to want to motivate his “troops” to join the revolution to build a new nation.  However, he didn’t seem to realize the bloody implications of such a revolution until it arrived.  His later “Song of Myself” has a certain undertone of realism, since his battle cries are laced with the real-world experience of what comes along with war.

It can feel frustrating to read as Walt tries desperately to encompass every facet of everything and everyone.  However, reading through his personal reflections I realize not just the high standards that he had for his countrymen, but for himself.  Walt didn’t paint himself as the great poet of America because he thought that he was the most qualified for the job.  He simply saw something that needed to be done and took the initiative to do it.  He explains this in his interview when he says that, “our work at present, and for a long time to come, is to lay the materialistic foundations of a great nation.”  He (shockingly) continues with a sprawling last of all that must be covered and the great scope of this challenge.

As I reflect on Walt Whitman, reflecting on Walt Whitman I am attempting to see him as he saw himself.  Somehow, the cocky, preachy sort of jargon dims in my memory as I realize what Walt was trying to do from the very beginning.  He wanted to define what it meant to be an American.  Unexpectedly, he ended up in the trenches, experiencing the darkest side of revolution during the Civil War.  As a result, Whitman was given the chance to put his money where his mouth was a write a real description of what it really means to fight for the nation that you want to see.  I’m willing to say that he succeeded.