A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

Meghan for Sept 8.

While I was reading this week, I spent some time grappling with the idea of Whitman’s America. Among his editorials, poetry, and my own sense of reality, he creates a sort of contradiction (and where else would there be a contradiction but in Whitman) between his poetry and editorials. How could he characterize America as being divine, whilst argung about its filth and corruption later?

Whitman emphasizes in “Democratic Vistas” that as a country, we will find “our own far grander, different, future history, religion…”(1017), and that no matter what, we will succeed, being an epicenter of “not only material but spiritual worlds” (1018). Brooklyn is beautiful in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry:” it is “the tall masts of Manhatta,” and the “beautiful Hills of Brooklyn” (312). In Whitman’s poetry, America is a teeming, thriving mass of a nation, full of the beautiful and strong. Whitman’s compassion even lends the prostitute and the slave their own sort of glamour. They are loved by Whitman, and they are part of America, and they are beautiful, despite all of their inadequacies.

And yet, it’s difficult to imagine an America this hopeful and glorious (and perhaps our day has made me terribly jaded). Reynold’s “Manhatta” seems to suggest a similar idea. When Whitman writes “our city is literally overrun with swine….There is a not a city in the United States as large as Brooklyn, where the cleanliness and decency of its streets is so neglected as here” (29). Where is the poetry and beauty in that? Whitman’s editorials seem to be the very antithesis of his poetry. Reynolds says that the lovely Manhattan we read about was Whitman’s “Gomorrah” (30). Furthermore, my own sense of reality conflicted with Whitman’s hopeful words; America in the mid-nineteenth century was set on the edge of conflict. People were so divided—by racial lines, by political lines, or whatever else—that the country seemed ready to explode.

Reynolds suggests later that Whitman was hopeful for the nation; he optimistically saw what the country could be. I agree; to me, this refutes the idea that Whitman as a poet would teach and refine the nation. It makes sense, then, that he could see both the roughness in himself (that which faced the reality of the sodden streets of America), and the divine poet that saw the beauty in the roughness. I also feel that it was not always so much an optimistic hope as an acceptance of what was, and finding the beauty in that. Whitman says in “Song of the Open Road” that

“the earth is rude, silent, incomprhensible at first, Nature is

rude and incomprehensible at first,

Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things as well


Perhaps Whitman saw them more as..stepping stones to getting to the divinity that he expresses in pieces like “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” The growing pains of a nation, if you will.

Whitman also strikes me as somewhat Shakespearean, in that he wrote for any and all Americans, the enlightened, those needing to be, and the ones that never would. So perhaps this contradiction is also for them. Realists would perhaps never take the glorified Manhattan without the crime-riddled one. And the prostitutes and the “degraded, criminal, ill” (“A Song for Occupations 356) could never count America as being beautiful without the acknowledgment of its ills, either.Whitman is our American poet, and how could he be American if he did not immortalize all?

3 comments to Meghan for Sept 8.

  • The more I read, the more I think Walt Whitman’s contradictions are all a part of his attempt to shake and stir the nation. Yes, during the mid to late nineteenth century Whitman was writing to a nation divided on just about every level; but, doesn’t that give him more of a reason to write the way he does? Whitman is a constant reminder to the American people that they can be unified through their differences. America is, at least in some ways, a nation founded on contradiction, on difference, on diversity.

    And true, I think that Whitman’s ability to find the “beauty in the roughness” is partially what sets him apart. But even further, I think that it is the fact that he attempts not only to see the beauty, but to cultivate and attempt to make sense of it that places him in a unique position in midst of a war-fearing nation.

  • I think that Whitman’s poetry is definitely of the optimistic variety. While reading I always get the feeling that he’s looking beyond what he sees towards what others will one day see. When describing the ferry ride he seems to expect that in the future there will be an equal if not greater appreciation for the sights than he himself feels.

    In his editorials on the other hand though, he falls back into his poet-as-prophet role and seeks to warn of the dangers facing America. I think he’s attempting to motivate people by showing them the ideal and then showing them what is in the way.

  • Do Twitter and Blogs Really Drive Book sales?

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>