Tuesday, September 08th, 2009 | Author:

“To his work without flinching the accoucheur comes…” (“Song of Myself” 85)


An accoucheur is a french term used to describe a male midwife, or obstetrician.  It was first bestowed upon Juliann Clement by King Louis XIV in order to distinguish his work from the much more disregarded midwives. Following this, the study of birth became fairly popular. To ensure the modesty of the patient, a sheet would often be tied around her neck, as well as the neck of the mid-man. This meant that he virtually worked the delivery blind. Due to the obvious inconveniences of this practice, mid-wives more commonly attended to the birth, while the accoucheur worked as an assistant (http://www.fcgapultoscollection.com).

The use of this term works for Whitman on many levels. For one, this male term serves to emphasize the masculinity that Whitman so often proclaims within “Song of Myself”. It also, however, works as a blending of masculine and feminine spheres. This is a man working an effeminate practice, within a realm commonly considered to be a woman’s, and he does so without thought or care to its connotations. On this plane, man and woman have become equals. The subject of birth also connects with Whitman’s mention of a corpse (death) later in the stanza. Here, all aspects of life—from beginning to end—are to be appreciated, no matter how disgusting.

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  1. Avatar of Mara Scanlon Mara Scanlon says:

    Glad you got this posted again, Meghan. Thanks. You’ve given a great gloss. This image looks very much like me being attended by my midwife. :)

  2. Avatar of leighannb leighannb says:

    thanks for this post- i found male midwives interesting as well. Especially when i was able to make the connection between Whitman and my childhood studies class. In “A History of Childhood” (Colin Heywood) we learned that, “men midwives appeared in the 18th century, distinguished by their willingness to use forceps and other instruments to help with a difficult birth”. Prior to the 18th century births were a “female mystery” !

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