Clara Barton Barbie?

September 27th, 2009

Hey Whitmanics, I found this today while doing some research for my oral report-


That’s right…Civil War Nurse Barbie.  Note the complete medical kit, the shiny white apron and, of course, the golden smile.

Now, for a little contrast-


Courtney for 9/28

September 27th, 2009

I spent most of this weekend doing research for my oral report, which is on Civil War medicine and hospitals.  I browsed through hundreds of images:  Creepy ten-types of soldiers with vague expressions and stumps for legs.  Dozens of wounded soldiers lying under trees waiting for medical attention, their arms and legs contorted like broken twigs.  Saws and scalpels that looked more like something from a horror movie than something that should be in a hospital.  Throughout all of this I felt that I got a sense of the “real war” that Whitman spoke of.

Today, the exposure that civilians get of war is so diluted and contrived.  The bloody sheets and dead bodies are kept far from view of the public; out of sight and out of mind.  Even coffins respectfully draped with an American flag are considered too controversial for public consumption.

It is especially interesting to me that Whitman saw the importance of an honest portrayal of the war, even in a time when most people were exposed to it in a much more realistic way.  I’ve been thinking about the psychological effects of a war that takes place, not on the other side of the world, but in your back yard.  And of an enemy that is not foreign and unfamiliar but your brother or neighbor.  It’s easy to throw a blanket over thousands of fallen patriots, either “North” or “South,” “Confederate” or “Yankee.”  However, Whitman seems to see the importance in looking closely at the faces of these soldiers and contemplating their experiences and motivations.

In Memoranda During the War, when he says, “The actual Soldier of 1862-’65, North and South, with all his ways, his incredible dauntlessness, habits, practices, tastes, language, his appetite, rankness, his superb strength and animality, lawless gait, and a hundred unnamed lights and shades of camp — I say, will never be written — perhaps must not and should not be,” perhaps he’s talking about the other side of the coin.  As tragic as it may be, there is a certain amount of heroism and glory in dying on the battlefield.  I think there is validity in trying to preserve this image.

To switch gears a little, I also found out this weekend that no account of Civil War Medicine is without mention of Clara Barton.  She seems a bit like a female version of Whitman himself.  She joined the throws of women, with little to no medical training, to help assist their country in the bloodiest of ways: as nurses.  These women dropped everything to support a nation that had not even granted them the right to vote.  In Barton’s poem she says calls these women, “nurses, consolers, and saviors of men.  These women truly were angels, and our history as a nation is much more complete with their stories told honestly.

Courtney for 9/22

September 20th, 2009

The first thing I notice that’s different about the 1867 version of Leaves of Grass (for pretty obvious reasons) is the first poem that Whitman chooses to introduce.  The deathbed edition features “One’s-Self I Sing” about halfway through the book, under the broader section, “Inscriptions.”  In the 1867 version this poem is featured at the very beginning.  Whitman drops the title and places it under the heading, “Inscription.”  When I looked at the original pages, I noticed immediately how the inscription had become singular and was followed by an authoritative period.  It gave me the sense that Whitman’s message was going to be more urgent this time, less idealistic and more somber in the aftermath of the war.

Both versions of the poem echo themes of solidarity and the endless possibilities set out before “a simple, separate person.”  In the first version, Whitman hints that it may be necessary for people to come together.  However, in the later version he proposes that the “modern” man must learn to come together “EN MASSE.”  Times had changed, and Whitman advises his readers to change with them.  He directly addresses the “hapless war” that had been tearing the country apart.  Stylistically, this marked another change in Whitman’s work.  Instead of masking everything in ambiguity and mentions the war directly, right in the first poem of the book.

As interesting, perhaps, as the things that Whitman changed in the revised version, are the things that he left the same.  Although the American landscape had changed drastically, Whitman’s message of camaraderie and relationships (whether you believe Reynolds that they are all quite fraternal or have more raunchy ideas) still remains the same.  As the nation crumbled around its citizens, Whitman insisted that they continue to come together in intimate ways for the good of everyone.

It also seems that, in the wake of the Civil War, Whitman’s priorities have changed.  We all know now that, if Whitman believes something then we will be asked to believe it as well.  In “Leaves of Grass, part 4,” which originally appeared as “To You,” Whitman’s scope has changed ever so slightly.  In the original version he said, “They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work, farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffering, dying.”  However, in the later version he adds to the list, “law, science, medicine, and print.”  In the changing American landscape, Whitman felt the need to broaden his audience.  His message had to be heard by everyone now, not just the outdoorsy hermits looking for a prophet.

Whitman had always shown a strong sense of nationalistic pride, and throughout the early editions of Leaves of Grass he inspired his readers to improve upon the face of America through personal growth.  However, after the devastation of the Civil War, Whitman realized that maybe that was not enough to keep the country standing.

Are you afraid of the dark?

September 15th, 2009

What was Walt Whitman afraid of? WW brazenly tells his readers to hit the road, love freely and explore everything openly. But what road would he have been afraid to take?

Courtney for 8/15

September 13th, 2009

            When I first started reading “Children of Adam” I was thinking that this was pretty far out for the 1890s.  An excessive amount of literature theory classes have taught me to consider context and time frame when reading a given work, but I still have in my mind this archaic idea of what life must have been like before blogs and Twitter.  I had to remind myself that people have always had the same sorts of longings and desires.  Sex couldn’t have been much different in past centuries, but since it was not publicized as much as it is now, it’s hard to imagine.             

            Towards the end of class last Tuesday, we began to touch on the idea of the body and the soul.  Whitman discusses the interconnectivity of the two, how they work together, how they are different, and how they are the same.  This is a tricky idea, one that has been investigated by religion, science, medicine, and literature.  Yes, we are bodies made up of pumping blood and muscles and bone.  But we are also so much more.  Just where do our parts stop and or souls begin?  When you think about it, sex is a pretty perfect allegory to explain how although we are just animals composed of basic parts, it is what is inside of us that allows us to feel the experience of life.

            After reading the article by Reynolds, I was honestly a little disappointed.  What had started as this super-lusty poem that I was picturing as being offensive and vulgar actually seemed pretty tame.  I changed my mind though, when I understood the context a little better, it only made the poem more beautiful.  It’s not about sex.  It’s not about heterosexuality or homosexuality.  It’s just about the union between two souls.  Regardless of gender, orientation or the nature of the relationship.  Whitman says that he “will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America…” In a time when the nation was recovering after being ripped apart, turning brothers against brothers and neighbors against neighbors, Whitman asks simply for everyone to just get along.  I took Whitman out of my mental category including Thoreau and Emerson and moved him in to the category with John Lennon and Bob Dylan.

            Overall I got this message of “oneness.”  Everything is connected and we need to accept our connections in open, positive ways.  Whitman believes in love, every kind of love between men and women, men and men or women and women.  He believes in relationships, every kind of relationships be them friendly, romantic or sexual.  Just as our bodies are more than just the sum of our body parts, are lives must too be enriched by the company and camaraderie of others.

If I was WW, where would I be?

September 11th, 2009

I friend of mine came down to visit last weekend.  She’s from Philadelphia and over the summer she was in a play about Walt Whitman’s life.  The coolest thing is that the play was in Camden and they performed it in the graveyard where he’s buried.  When I told her about this class she was stoked and we set out to find Walt for ourselves.  With some poetry, some orange slices and a camera we headed to the Rappahannock.





I know all you UMW kids probably see this all the time.  It’s basically right across the street from us.  I grew up here, so have visited this very spot about a thousand times.  But I tried to look at every detail with the wonder that Walt describes finding in the simplest places.

“Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat, 
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not 
even the best, 
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.”

Image Gloss

September 7th, 2009

From ‘A Song for Occupations”

…The work and tools of the rigger, grappler, sail-maker, block-maker,

of gutta-percha, papier-mache, colors, brushes, brush-making,

glazier’s implements…

What is Gutta Percha?


Gutta percha is a plant, native to tropical areas like Southeast Asia.  In the 1850’s, it was used in the Western world mainly to carve furniture and jewelry.  Established in 1847, the Gutta Percha Company set a standard for ornately carved furniture which were shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851.


Gutta percha was also commonly used to make bead and jewelry.  Because of its dark color, many of the pieces were called, “Mourning Beads,” which were often worn by widows.


Courtney for 9/8

September 6th, 2009

When Whitman writes about nature, he notices every detail.  He reveals the majesty in the simplest of things.  Likewise, when he writes about the city, he seems to study every individual.  His observations reveal to the reader something familiar, but in an illuminated way.  The America that Whitman saw in the bustling crowds of New York City was in its earliest stages, when what it meant to be an American was not yet defined. 

Whitman looked out over the horizon and saw limitless possibilities.  In “Song of the Open Road,” he makes it clear that men and women are capable of nearly anything.  He encourages people to be strong, healthy, and brave.  The essence of America is the land.  Throughout all the differences that separate people, their tie to the land is one thing that holds everyone together.  I feel more “American” when I’m travelling around the country, meeting new people and experiencing new things.  Whitman speaks to these experiences and the importance of roaming around and connecting with the country.

Whitman speaks of the contradictions within himself.  He seems perhaps overly aware of all the different people battling within him.   Likewise, the blossoming America that spread before Whitman was one that was filled with different people all struggling to assert their own identity into the vastness.  It is this commonality that I notice most in these poems that seek to define a thread that bonds us.

It is also clear that Whitman believes that all men and women have the capacity for greatness.  In order for a community to thrive, all people must work together in equality.  In Song of the Broad-Axe, he describes what will make a city great.  Ironically, what he describes is a place where the people challenge the government and learn early to depend on themselves.  This juxtaposition is a vital part of what makes America unique.

            “Leaves of Grass” is a vital part of the American Literature cannon.  It is an American novel in that it explicitly investigates what it means to be American.  At the time that it was penned, America was a jumble of people struggling to find a common identity.  Whitman addressed this not as a weakness, but as a strength.  He understood that the journey is a vital step.  Just as he emphasized the journey as an important part of the process of self-realization, he also saw that with time, America would fourish.

Courtney for 9/1

September 1st, 2009



As Walt Whitman stares at me nonchalantly from the first page of “Leaves of Grass,” I feel that he is taking subtle revenge on every picture-taker that has forced a smile out of his subjects.  I am reminded of picture day at school and I think how much happier I would have been had I been allowed to present myself in a way that was representative of myself.  Instead, I like most kids was dressed up in frills and sent grinning in the cafeteria. 

With his picture, Whitman says a thousand words.  He presents himself immediately as an outdoorsmen, someone who has no use for fashion or pretense.  He clearly does not care about presenting himself in a manner that would make him look professional or more like the other authors in his day.  He seems to be saying that while he did indeed write this book, he in no way considers himself to be an author any more than he considers himself an adventurer.  The clothes that he chose were probably what he wore on any given day; in choosing them he made a conscience effort to identify himself with the working class.

His stance reveals a certain amount of disinterest.  With his hand in his pocket and his weight shifted on one hip, he seems almost like he is being bothered by this whole photographic endeavor.  However, regardless of any appearance of nonchalance, all of these elements were still carefully chosen by Whitman to make a statement.

Whitman was perfectly aware that his work shirt and crooked hat was not the usual wardrobe for someone hoping to be viewed as a serious author. But, the expression of cadence on his face reveals that this calculated effort to appear effortless was exactly the point. 

“Leaves of Grass” was unlike the other books being released in its time and likewise, Whitman had to appear to be a different kind of author.  Although he indeed was going against the mainstream with his choice of this particular portrait, I think that the effect was carefully thought out.  His appearance and ambiguity immediately distinguished him as different.  He immediately set his work apart, shifting the attention from him as an author an allowing the book to speak for itself.

Whitman found magnificence in the simple things around him, and through “Leaves of Grass,” he inspires the reader to simplify his or her viewpoints and quietly examine all the beauty in the world.  Likewise the image that Whitman chose to represent himself is a simplified version of himself.  He presents himself with no context, no flashy persona, and with no attempt to appear to be something that he is not.  The smirking face that greets the reader when he or she first opens “Leaves of Grass” provides a hint to what can be expected in the following pages, a close examination of the world as it is, not as some professional-looking author views it.

Song of Courtney

August 30th, 2009


Myself moving forward then and now and forever,

Gathering and showing more always with velocity,

Infinite and omnigenous, and the like of these among them,

Not too exclusive toward the reachers of my remembrancers,

Picking out here one that I love, and now go with him on

            brotherly terms.

I am most comfortable on the move.  Too long in one place leaves me with an unsettled feeling that starts in my toes and slowly creeps up until it consumes me.  This is likely due in some part to my upbringing.  The baby of an overly-close and overly-protective family, it has fallen upon me to screw up repeatedly for most of my adolescence.  Now faced with the frightening realization of graduation, a friend offered me some great advice, “Don’t worry too much, you have all year to screw it up.”  

            So here I am, working on a degree filled with everything from business to philosophy, biology to eastern religion, political science and one called “American Rebellion.”  Starting this year I could have basically gone with any major I wanted.  I chose English because; if I have to be studying something it might as well be something I actually like.  I have no idea what I’ll do if I graduate, but I’m overwhelmingly excited about this course.    I know I’ll never again have an opportunity like this.  Who knows what’s I’ll be doing next year, but this year I’m studying Whitman.