Archive for October, 2009

DC Trip pictures

October 25th, 2009 -- Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

So, since I have been so terrible about writing about our first field trip, here are some photos from our incredible trip yesterday:
Walt Whitman's messenger bag
The centerpiece of our LoC tour!
Ralph Waldo Emerson's letter to Walt Whitman
Emerson’s letter to Whitman about the 1855 edition
Walt Whitman Way
Nuff said
Walt Whitman's face
The good, gray poet
Ford's Theatre presidential box
Lincoln’s fateful box seat

Taller Sam for October 27

October 25th, 2009 -- Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Not surprisingly, the question posed to us this week feels very appropriate, following our trip yesterday. When we were able to sit in Ford’s Theatre and look up to where Lincoln had sat, it really brought the events of that day home to us. However, they remain abstract to us in so many important ways, in ways that cannot be overcome by virtue of the fact that we were simply not there. As we looked at the wonderful artifacts laid out for us at the Library of Congress, Whitman became (I would think) much more real to us, but he still remains abstract or idealized in our minds because we simply never knew the man. I think that Whitman’s feelings for Abe Lincoln were, like the rest of him, a “kosmos,” but that they can be understood a bit if we look through the lens of pastoral poetry.

When the question of Whitman’s feelings for Lincoln was posed, my mind immediately jumped to consider the “Calamus” love that we’ve talked about so much. I really don’t think that Lincoln would fall into that category for Uncle Walt though, and I think it can be explained both biographically and through literary analysis. Biographically speaking, Lincoln simply doesn’t fit the profile of men that Whitman was interested in, at least as far as I know. Again and again, we’ve read about Whitman seeking after younger men: Lincoln was about ten years older than Whitman. He would not have been the type that Whitman could nurture, which seems to have been a common thread in the poet’s love life. Building on that, Lincoln was too established of a man to fit into the anonymous mold set by Whoever you Are, Holding me Now in Hand. Whitman knew exactly who Lincoln was and what he wanted from him. Lincoln could not be nurtured because he himself was already in the position of nurturer, both as a father and as president.

With those things in mind, I contend that it is a good thing that Whitman and Lincoln never met personally. From his distant viewpoint, Whitman was able to freely paint Lincoln with the colors that he wanted to. Not to say that Lincoln was not worthy of what Whitman said of him; after all, the man did incredible things. Personal meetings have a way of bursting bubbles though: what if Lincoln had offended Whitman or, worse, not approved of him? What would have happened to the symbol that Whitman had turned Lincoln into? That being said, I think Whitman’s feelings for Lincoln are best seen within the pastoral framework.

Obviously, Whitman and Lincoln would not fit cleanly into the traditional shepherd-shepherdess, Arcadia-occupying model. However, there are other aspects of the genre that ring true here. For one, Lincoln is a muse for Whitman: he inspires what is (for better or for worse) the man’s most well-known verse. Whitman can stand on his street corner, stare at Lincoln as he rides by, and write about the emotional turmoil that the man inspires in him.

As with the traditional shepherdesses though, Lincoln is idealized to the point of having no voice of his own. He receives Whitman’s stares, but never answers back verbally. It can very easily be argued that Whitman is in love with the idea of Lincoln, the symbol that he makes Lincoln into, rather than the man himself. As with Dante, Petrarch, Garcilaso de la Vega, et al, and their female muses, readers are left wondering what the effect on the poetry would have been if Whitman had actually had relationships with the man whom he set up on such a pedestal. While we will never have an answer to this question, we are left with some amazing poetry, and that seems like a wonderful consolation prize to me!

What the world thought of Whitman

October 23rd, 2009 -- Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Last night, I decided that enough of the semester had passed without me trying to tie Latin America in with Walt Whitman. So, going off some vague memory, I found an article written in praise of Whitman by Cuban writer José Martí (1853-1895).

Martí was integral in motivating Cuba to separate from Spanish rule and establish itself, so it is not surprising that he would identify with Whitman’s hopes for the United States. This article is very long, so I will do my best to translate the opening paragraph that reads like this in Spanish (so that Brady can correct me :-) ):

“«Parecía un dios anoche, sentado en un sillón de terciopelo rojo, todo el cabello blanco, la barba sobre el pecho, las cejas como un bosque, la mano en un cayado.» Esto dice un diario de hoy del poeta Walt Whitman, anciano de setenta años a quien los críticos profundos, que siempre son los menos, asignan puesto extraordinario en la literatura de su país y de su época. Sólo los libros sagrados de la antigüedad ofrecen una doctrina comparable, por su profético lenguaje y robusta poesía, a la [de]… este poeta viejo, cuyo libro pasmoso está prohibido.”

“‘He resembled a god last night, seated in a chair of red velvet, the complete white gentleman, his beard on his stomach, his eyebrows like a forest, his hand on a staff.’ This is what one of today’s newspapers says about the poet Walt Whitman, an old man of 70 years whom the most profound critics, who are always the fewest in number, give an exalted position in the literature of his country and his age. Only the sacred books of antiquity offer a comparable doctrine, through his prophetic language and robust poetry, to that of… this old poet whose astonishing book is banned.”

I also found a poem about Whitman by the Nicaraguan writer Rubén Darío (1867-1916). Darío is regarded as the father of the Latin American “modernism” movement (which pre-dated the English-language movement and vastly differed in its ideas and focuses) and this poem was published in his collection Azul, which is seen as the archetypal “modernismo” work. The idealized way in which Whitman is described is characteristic of the modernismo style, which I think goes with what we’ve observed about early Whitman poetry. Not surprisingly, this poem is called Walt Whitman, and reads like this in the Spanish:

En su país de hierro vive el gran viejo,
Bello como un patriarca, sereno y santo.
Tiene en la arruga olímpica de su entrecejo
Algo que impera y vence con noble encanto.

Su alma del infinito parece espejo;
Son sus cansados hombros dignos del manto;
Y con arpa labrada de un roble añejo,
Como un profeta nuevo canta su canto.

Sacerdote que alienta soplo divino,
Anuncia, en el futuro, tiempo mejor.
Dice al águila: «¡Vuela!»; «¡Boga!», al marino,

Y «¡Trabaja!», al robusto trabajador.
¡Así va ese poeta por su camino,
Con su soberbio rostro de emperador!

And here is my attempt at translation:

In his iron country lives the great old man,

Beautiful like a patriarch, serene and holy.

In the Olympic crease between his eyebrows

He has something that prevails and defeats with noble charm.

His infinite soul is like a mirror;

His tired shoulders are worthy of a cloak;

And with a carved harp from an ancient oak,

He sings his song like a new prophet.

Priest that cheers on the divine gust,

He announces, in the future, a better time.

He says to the eagle: “Fly!”: “Row!” to the sailor, 

And “Work!” to the robust worker.

So that poet goes on his way,

With his magnificent emperor’s face!

Any thoughts or observations?

Sam Krieg’s Material Culture Museum Entry

October 20th, 2009 -- Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

    During the nineteenth century, firearm technology experienced a series of incredible technological advances. The smooth bore, round-ball musket, which had been favored for centuries of warfare, was replaced by the grooved barrels and cylindro-conical rounds of the rifle. However, during the Civil War, a middle ground between the two styles was favored by the Union army: the rifle-musket, of which Springfield and Enfield models were the most commonly-seen. These weapons, which married musket-style barrel lengths with barrel rifling, represented a leap forward in accuracy, as well as battlefield reliability. Unfortunately, battlefield tactics initially lagged behind the new technology, which meant that increasingly-accurate rifle-muskets took a heavy toll on foot soldiers deployed in archaic battle formations.

     The closing years of the eighteenth century yielded an innovation in firearms technology: the digging of grooves into musket barrels. The grooves, dubbed rifling, put a spin on the discharged round: this increased the effective accurate range of the weapon. However, these weapons continued to fire round bullets until the middle of the nineteenth century. According to an article by Paul Dougherty and Major Herbert Collins, “Although accuracy could be improved with the use of a rifled barrel, the tit of the bullet/barrel needed to be tight to impart a spin on the projectile. This made reloading too slow for the standard military arm” (Wound Ballistics 403). Due to the requirement of being small enough to quickly slide down the rifled barrel, the accuracy of the bullets was hampered.  However, in 1847, French officer Captain Claude Minie developed a new sort of round that seemed to solve this loading problem. He created a bullet shaped like a cylinder that tapered to a cone at the front end. The base of the bullet was hollow, which, according to historian Charles Worman, expanded “by the force of the exploding gunpowder, causing the bullet base to expand and fill and grip the rifling grooves” (Firearms in American History 71). Harper’s Ferry assistant master armorer, and later superintendent of Confederate armories, James Burton later improved on this design, but history has given the bullet the moniker of “Minie ball.” The Minie ball essentially solved the aforementioned bullet and barrel problems and truly took advantage of barrel rifling. In the Union army during the Civil War, these advances were most often made apparent through the use of Springfield M1861 and Enfield .577 rifle-muskets.

     The name of the M1861 model gives the year of the Springfield model’s creation, but it was largely based on the company’s M1855. Both models boasted forty inch, round barrels with three rifling grooves and shot a .58 caliber bullet. The gun’s caliber was a compromise between two previously-used sizes; .54 caliber rounds, which avoided excessive recoil but lacked accuracy, and the increased accuracy of .69 caliber rounds, which was counterbalanced by the excessive weight required for guns to be able to fire them. It could also be fitted with an intimidating triangular bayonet. However, despite contracting private gun makers produce M1861s, the Union army still faced a shortage of up-to-date firearms. For example, although Lincoln’s government contracted more than a million rifle-muskets in 1861, meaningful quantities of firearms did not begin to arrive in soldiers hands until two years later. In order to fulfill these weapon needs, muskets and rifles were purchased from a large number of foreign sources.

Springfield M1861

Springfield M1861

     Of these, the British “long” Enfield Pattern 1853 was the most sought-after. Perhaps the secret to its success with Union soldiers stemmed from its similarities to the Springfield models: the Enfield had a thirty-nine inch, round barrel, with three grooves serving as rifling. The Enfield officially shot a .577 caliber round which, according to Louis Garavaglia and Charles Worman’s Firearms of the American West, “would also work in the U.S. .58 caliber rifles. Depending on actual bullet diameter, U.S. .58 caliber Minie bullets… would work in the Enfields as long as the bore was reasonably clean” (167). Both the Springfield and the Enfield were muzzle-loaders, meaning that a rod was required to push single rounds into place in the barrel before they could be fired.

Enfield 1853

Enfield 1853

     Both the Springfield models and the Enfield expelled their single rounds with a percussion cap, described in Firearms in American History as “a small copper cup with the fulminate inside its base covered with a tin foil disk and sealed with a bit of shellac to make it waterproof” (44). These caps worked much better in poor weather than did the previously-favored flintlock system, although some on the frontier were reluctant to abandon their tried-and-true mechanism. The individual cartridges, containing the round and necessary gunpowder, were sealed in paper. When the guns were loaded, the paper was torn open in some way and the powder was poured down the barrel. An amusing legend states that, in the early stages of the war, four good front teeth were required for enlistment. This way, the soldier would be able to quickly bite open cartridges, instead of having to open them with his fingers (Firearms in American History 109). Next, a ramrod, which had to be withdrawn and replaced, was used to shove the round down. Finally, a percussion cap was placed on the gun’s nipple, the gun was cocked, and it was ready to be fired. Firearms in American History gives the normal rate of fire for these guns as “about three rounds per minute under good conditions” (109). Unfortunately, due to the powder residue left by each Minie ball, the rifle muskets would become difficult to fire after around twenty shots if they were not cleaned. Here is a video of a Civil War-era rifle was fired:

     These favorable qualities contributed to the rifle-musket’s effective range far out-doing previously-favored smoothbore weapons. Unfortunately, since these forward strides had been made so close to the advent of the Civil War, the leaders on both sides did not immediately recognize the pitfalls of employing smoothbore-era military tactics in the age of Minie balls and rifled barrels. Smoothbore weapons, such as those employed in the Revolutionary War, only had an effective range of about fifty yards, according to Dougherty and Collins. In contrast, rifle-muskets had an effective range of between 500 and 1,000 yards. With that increased accuracy in mind, it is easy to see how the attrition battle of lining troops up less than 100 yards apart to shoot at one another was less effective in 1863 than in the previous century. However, mechanically speaking, these Springfield and Enfield rifle-muskets of the Civil War performed excellently in the workhorse role they were given in the war. Unfortunate for them was that the march of technology did not stop with them, and both models were soon rendered obsolete.

Works Cited

1853 3-Band Enfield Musket, .58 Caliber. Taylor’s & Co., Inc., Winchester. Taylor’s & Co., Inc.. Web. 20 October 2009.

Dougherty, Paul and Herbert Eidt. “Wound Ballistics: Minié Ball vs. Full Metal Jacketed Bullets—A Comparison of Civil War and Spanish-American War Firearms.” Military Medicine 174, 4:403 (2009): 403-407. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Oct. 2009.

Garavaglia, Louis and Charles Worman. Firearms of the American West: 1803-1865. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984. Print.

Springfield 1861. Myra Museum, Grand Forks. Civil War History: The Blog Between the States. Web. 20 October 2009.

Worman, Charles. Firearms in American History. Yardly: Westholme, 2007. Print.

Sam Krieg for October 20

October 18th, 2009 -- Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

     Today I am going to consider Whitman’s troubles maintaining close friendships, and how that may reflect on his relationship to his readers. Throughout our readings for this week, Whitman’s relationship with William Douglas O’Conner is repeatedly mentioned. Whitman’s relationship with O’Conner interests me because it seems very reminiscent of what most of the students in our class have gone through this semester: at times, his ideas and personality have drawn us in, and at other times they have driven us away. The friendship of the two men reads something like a modern-day celebrity story; initially, the two published writers walked all around town together and couldn’t be separated. However, following an especially heated argument, they would not exchange words for years. This did not prevent O’Conner from coming to Whitman’s aid against a law suit though.

     As we have seen in his relationships generally regarded as “more than just friendly,” Whitman expected an incredible amount of emotional energy from those he was close to. For a time, the passionate O’Conner seems to have fulfilled those expectations. According to the account of O’Conner’s wife, Ellen Calder, he was never reluctant to challenge Whitman’s ideas and, perhaps, would even intentionally provoke the poet. Interestingly, it was because of an issue that Whitman was more ambivalent about that the two men went their separate ways: slavery. Whitman’s more middle-of-the-road stance, which saw him as reluctant for society to set former slaves on the same level as those of European descent, did not match the abolitionist sentiments of O’Conner. However, when it came to his allegedly more intimate friendships, Whitman did not tend to gravitate towards personalities like O’Conner.

     Instead of intellectuals, Whitman tended to become romantically attached to younger men of the working class. Some of the letters assigned for this week center around Peter Doyle, a former soldier who apparently did not think very highly of Leaves of Grass. It is intriguing that Whitman was attracted to someone that disregarded such a large part of his life, namely his pre-war poetry. Doyle was perhaps symbolic of Whitman’s ideal person, but seems to have been unaware of the message that Whitman sought to communicate in his early poetry. Perhaps it is through Doyle’s dislike of Leaves that we can explain his eventual separation from Whitman. When one ignores poems like Song of Myself, the passion of the poet behind the words is also missed. However, why did Whitman still expect so much of Doyle, even though he was obviously not ignorant of the man’s opinions? Through his demands, Whitman became like the father whom he had heard about so many times from young soldiers: the man that had driven his son away because he asked too much of him.

     How does all this reflect Whitman’s relationship with his readers? Well, in his early work, Whitman demands of his readers that they acknowledge and reciprocate his passion for life and people. It is most appreciated when the reader questions and challenges it, as our class has found. This does not apply as much to the more somber tone of Drum Taps though, which appears simpler at face value. It must be seen in light of the earlier work as well though, and so Whitman’s passions shine through. So, if the reader’s wits are kept about him, Whitman becomes an infinitely-interesting companion. However, he can quickly become too much for those that do not at least have some idea of his full scope.

Sam Krieg for October 6

October 4th, 2009 -- Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

     I am going to focus my blog on the Song of the Banner at Daybreak, and its dialogic style. The poem has five distinct speakers (the poet, the pennant, the banner, the child, and the father), which differs from Whitman’s previously-favored format of one single speaker that occasionally speaks for others. Through the interaction between this multitude of voices, Whitman most notably shows the power of the poet to rouse people from their habits, although he notably slams those that stand against the principles he holds.

     The poet here, a very thinly disguised picture of Whitman himself (an anti-academic, the poet is at one point referred to as a “bard out of Manhattan”), is the torch-bearer for change (423). He has both the first and the last word in the poem and is able to fully articulate what is hinted at by the child and rejected by the father. The child is able to glimpse what the poet knows, and expresses a desire to follow the anti-materialist, country-spanning path of the poet, but the father’s final word overshadows his. Here, the father is the voice of people content with the establishment, those that want nothing to upset what has been built thus far. However, the father is paralyzed by that love of the establishment, so that he will not even rise up to defend it. He is paralyzed by what he sees directly in front of him, so that he is unable to see future threats that must be defended against.

     The pennant and the banner occupy similar roles, although the banner’s small size probably explains why it is the one to speak to the child and the banner speaks to the poet. The banner serves as the connection between the world of the child, which wonders “what is that in the sky beckoning to me with long finger?” and the banner that of “Demons and death then I sing” (421, 425). The banner is the recipient of the poet’s focus and seems to be dependent on the poet for direction: “Point this day [O bard out of Manhattan], leaving all the rest, to us over all—and yet we know not why, / For what are we, mere strips of cloth profiting nothing, / Only flapping in the wind?” (423). It shows Whitman’s high view of the national poet, who is able to infuse objects with meaning, including the meaning that inspires people to war. The poet does not create democracy here, but he is the force that spurs people to enjoy and defend it. He gives direction to those that dare look up from the pavement and money exchanges in front of them.

     In previous centuries, the dialogue poem had been an oft-used format that generally facilitated a discussion between the soul and the body. Generally, things came down in favor of the soul, reflecting the strong Christian influence of the time. While it’s reasonable to assume that Whitman would be on the side of the body, the answer is much grayer than that. While the poet obviously comes down on the side of the physical, with his call to arms, he also is outside of the world. He calls for a rejection of what the world deems worthwhile, such as money, while extolling the abstract idea of democracy. The poet is connected enough to sense the currents of the world, but separated enough to be in touch with the world of ideas and souls. In other words, the poet is a kosmos.

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