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Virginia for October 20

missvirginia on Oct 19th 2009

I think the best quote that personifies the answer to the prompt questions this week is from Calder’s “Persona Recollections of Walt Whitman”. She mentions that when Whitman heard about a soldier from the West who had never seen an orange, he immediately brought oranges to that soldier on his next visit. I find it similar to his relationship to his readers. Before Whitman, there really wasn’t any poet like him; a poet who wrote of a seductive nature and earth, a mad and violent people who were…us, Americans (almost exclusively in Drum-taps). Whitman saw that none of us had seen these “oranges” of provocative text, so he immediately got to work in order to help us taste the tangy, slightly acidic, and citrusy morsels of the poetry that became a definition of the War and of the people.

In Morris’ book, The Better Angel, I remember reading it this summer and being shocked at Whitman’s view on slavery. It baffled me to think someone who may have been fearful of persecution because of his sexuality, would be somewhat judgmental towards African-Americans. When Morris elaborates on Whitman’s childhood friend who was black, and that he practically was “Uncle Tom”, I felt uneasy. The man who I had thought wanted Americans, ALL Americans, to be free no matter their sex, education, background, origin was a little dashed away in my mind. Morris quotes Whitman’s poetry, “I am the poet of slaves and the masters of slaves,  I go with the slaves of the earth equally with the masters and I will stand between the masters and the slaves, Entering into both so that both shall understand me alike.” Morris also tells us that Whitman had equally been not fond of “hotheaded” abolitionists nor of die-hard pro-slavery activists. I feel disappointed in Whitman, I almost feel like he resented both parties, that they both had created the War. However, I think that it would have been utterly impossible to go on the way the country was going. A country cannot have some states allowing something and another few finding the same thing illegal. Today we have medical marijuana and different types of legal alcohol (Everclear, allowed in North Carolina, but not in Virginia), albeit none of those issues are as pressing as human bondage, but it creates a kind of understanding of what is in the present. I think Whitman would have been ecstatic for the country to continue being somewhat divided on the slavery issue, as long as there were a way of working it out beyond war. Again, I think Whitman was somewhat of a dreamer and this is just another well-wished dream of probably many Americans of that time. Whitman still continued to unite the Confederacy and the Union through his poetry and not singling out any extreme, violent enemy, but looking at the soldiers as “our boys” alike, despite their north/south origin.

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Material Culture Museum Entry, Soldiers’ Home

missvirginia on Oct 18th 2009

34-room original building on the Estate

34-room original building on the Estate

Lincoln’s Cottage, Soldier’s Home

Founding and History of Soldiers’ Home

Founded by a Major General, General, and a Senator on March 3, 1851 after the suggestion of an Army Asylum in his Annual Message to the President in November of 1827 by Secretary of War James Barbour. Thus, it took almost 30 years before action was taken to form the “asylum”.

Brevet Major General Robert Anderson, the supportive Major General who was active in the founding of the home, was Fort Sumter’s commanding officer during the very beginning of the Civil War. Senator Jefferson Davis, the second part of the triumvirate who enacted Barbour’s suggestion, repeatedly introduced legislation to Congress to found a home for retired and disabled American veterans. Thirdly, General Winfield Scott contributed $100,000 of tribute money (a total of $150,000) gained from pillaging Mexico City.

The selling point was “to provide an honorable and secure retirement for American war veterans.” When Congress passed legislation it was considered “a military asylum for the relief and support of invalid and disabled soldiers of the army of the United States.”

Many sites had been considered for Soldiers’ Home, finally George Riggs’ 256-acre family estate was purchased for $57,000 and a Mr. Charles Scrivner gave about 58 acres. More land was added over the next 20 years. Soldiers’ Home was just three miles north of downtown DC (at the time, of course).

Riggs, an affluent DC banker, finished building the “’Corn Rigs’ cottage”, his summer retreat, in 1842. The unusual architecture of the house, including its several gables, latticed windows, and the intricate gingerbread trimming stamp it as being part of the Gothic Revival-style. Gothic Revival was a style then popular country and summer homes.

In 1857, the house’s intended inhabitants, retired soldiers, moved into a new, large stone building. It was near the original cottage and was modeled after the same Gothic style. There were four buildings, including the one aforementioned, by 1861.

Soldiers’ Home in the Civil War

The home was very close in proximity to Fort Slemmer and Fort Stevens. Fort Slemmer was actually one of the forts that skirted DC. Fort Stevens played a key role in defending the District against the Confederates, led by General Jubal Early, in a July 1864 attack. Fort Stevens was visited several times by Lincoln during the Civil War, even when it was under attack; according to some, Lincoln was almost shot while visiting during the attack.

If the walls could talk at Soldiers’ Home, they would be a history book within themselves. In the September of 1862, President Lincoln was residing at the house when he was revising and writing the final draft of his Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln and Soldiers’ HomeThe cottage in Lincoln's time.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his family lived at Soldiers’ Home seasonally, from June to November in the years from 1862-1864. It is reported that each summer season the Lincoln family lived at Soldiers’ Home, the staff had to transport about 19 cartloads of the family’s belongings from the city. The estate was situated on one of the highest hills in the district. The grounds offered respite from the mugginess and congestion of the capital. There is evidence from the first lady that the family “delighted” in their romps at the home.

Lincoln enjoyed the cool, airy atmosphere of Soldiers’ Home and getting away from the city. Yet, he did bring his work with him. Even when he didn’t bring the work home, every morning he rode to the White House to fulfill his duties as president. He would return each evening to Soldiers’ Home. Lincoln, and the cavalry that accompanied him to and fro, had to pass hospitals, cemeteries and camps for former slaves. Even on his way back to his hide-away from the war, he had to be reminded of the war. Lincoln met with political foes and friends there and discussed military strategy with his advisors. Lincoln visited the “old”, or original building, Soldiers’ Home within three days of his first inauguration.

In the battle at Fort Stevens, like mentioned before, Lincoln went to observe. Considering that the battle of Fort Stevens was only a mile from Soldiers’ Home, the first family had been evacuated to the White House. In that same summer, not only was he the first president to be under enemy fire, but also his commutes to the city and the cottage were the target times for an attempted assassination by a sniper and abduction by John Wilkes Booth.

Soldiers’ Home and Beyond

Before Lincoln, President Buchanan used the estate to escape the city and duties of being head of the nation. After Lincoln, Presidents Hayes and Arthur also stayed at Soldiers’ Home. Hayes stayed at the estate during the summer from 1877 to 1880. Arthur and his family resided there during the White House’s renovations in the winter of 1882 and spent summers there also. Presidents beyond Hayes and Arthur did not use Soldiers’ Home as a retreat.

The home was adapted for new and different uses. In the 1900’s, the home faded into oblivion. Finally in 2001, the Soldiers’ Home was officially named the Washington Unit of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. It is, in fact, the only retirement home for enlisted Army and Air Force personnel, warrant officers, and disabled soldiers in the nation. In 1973, the Secretary of the Interior determined the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s home a National historic landmark. This included the original cottage and the three other buildings that were build pre-Civil War.

More recently, in 2000, President Clinton declared “the President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home” a National monument. The new monument consisted of the cottage and 2.3 acres surrounding it. The Nation Trust for Historic Preservation started a detailed and comprehensive restoration of the cottage in 2001. In 2008, for the first time ever, the organization opened President Lincoln’s Cottage to the general public on President’s Day.

Works Cited:

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Virginia S. for October 6th

missvirginia on Oct 5th 2009

Whitman’s triumphant, mostly optimistic, and hopeful tone in his earlier work evokes a sort of nostalgic happiness. Celebrating nature, mother earth, and humanity was the “name of the game” with Whitman. He wasn’t all love and happiness, he mentions horrors of life (like the slave passing through his house and how he put salve on the wounds before the slave ran North) but always with a compatible positive note. Mostly, he combatted the mentioned distasteful situations with his positive effort to make whatever was negative better. He wrote with a tone that rang of human rights, that rang of tolerance and love, of trying to find a common denominator in everyone. The unity that he strove to find, and usually was successful in finding, became changed in Drum Taps.

The voice Whitman writes with in “First O Songs for a Prelude” is tearful, regretful, and the unifying thread for the people of which he writes about. Those people are the ones with losses that they face because of the war; the devastation, the absence of loved ones (whether dead, dying, or gone off to fight in the war), the indignation many people felt when thinking about the “enemy”. I think Whitman’s outlook of the Confederates compromised him. He and the “Angel of Marye’s Heights”, Richard Kirkland, had one thing in common; they felt in their heart of hearts that what they were doing was necessary in both aspects: war and helping humanity, humility, and love survive the cruel reality of battle. Despite the judgement they both faced, they both felt empathy for the “enemy”. While Kirkland brought water to Union soldiers on the battlefield, Whitman ,although conservatively, did mention bravery and courage when writing articles about the battles, soldiers, and sights he saw when with the regiments.

Whitman does not need to change his triumphant “songs”. In fact, that would part of his responsibility, since he was/is the self-proclaimed “Bard of America”. He needs to remain encouraging, however, the question that brings is, who should he encourage. If he encourages the South too much, Northerners might turn their back and call him a sympathizer–then his business would fail, and we all know that Whitman always had one eye on his career. If he coldly turned his shoulder on the Confederacy, I find it hard to believe he could live with himself acting that way. His triumphant tone would be for the nation BEFORE the civil war and to try and strive to gain that unification again. Thus, the triumphant tone mainly needs to shift from a triumphant “Life may be hard, but it is good” tone to a “Life is hard, only love and tolerance will get you through it” voice.

Drum Taps is a loving, vigorously working set of poetry that tugs at the heart strings and makes modern audiences question the modern day wars we are “sending our boys off to fight in”. Is there any national figure rooting for them, regardless of whether they support the war on terrorism or not? No, there is no modern day “angel” in Iraq writing home for soldiers who have their arms, hands, shoulders missing because of an IED. The nation(s) of the Civil War were lucky to have Whitman siding with any lonely boy, whether he was from Georgia, had slaves at home, or from Connecticut, and poor as dirt. The triumphant tone mainly needs to shift from a triumphant “Life may be hard, but it is good” tone to a “Life is hard, only love and tolerance will get you through it”.

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Virginia for September 29th

missvirginia on Sep 27th 2009

Whitman, especially in his Memoranda during the War, sounds like a poster child for the United Daughters of the Confederacy. However, and obviously, he isn’t rallying for people to “nevah fahgit tha gret wahr”, but simply to never forget the men and boys who gave their life. He seems to be terrified that if he doesn’t record what happened during the war, that people will start to look at it, like a simple tiff between brothers. When in fact, Whitman saw first hand the blood, guts, the gutteral cries from dead, dying, and recovering men. He saw the “real war”.

I grew up in the center of the Civil War. Yes, I know that’s a pretty gutsy claim to make, especially if there are fellow southerners reading along. I grew up in Appomattox. Right where Lee, in a bittersweet moment, surrendered to Grant. When I was little, every family vacation had some sort of educational sidenote. In Maryland, we visited Antietam, in Nova (Northern Virginia) I walked where soldiers ran at Bull Run, after riding horses in Kentucky, my momma dragged me to Perryville. My entire life has danced around the Civil War, and I like it that way. Yet, it is another thing to truly see photographs from the era (thank you, Mathew Brady) and read the hair-raising, gag-inducing scenes from Whitman, Barton, and other “insiders” from the war.

Whitman comments in his memorandum, “in the mushy influences of current times the fervid atmosphere and typical events of those years are in danger of being totally forgotten.” I think Whitman realized that people were shocked at the horrible detriments of the war when it became public, like the way standards for becoming a surgeon in the war was so little. In the same light, he also realized the almost desired ignorance of the public. They wanted to hear “Our boys are fighting as hard as they could. Your knitted mittens and socks are coming in handy. The food isn’t delectable, but it’s healthy.” Whitman saw first hand, and heard reliable accounts from the boys he helped nurse, that the described situation was a farce and simply wishful thinking.

After helping those boys to health (or at least a little more comfortable death), I think Whitman felt he owed it to them that they would know they didn’t fight in vain just to have all the dirty secrets swept under the table. Whitman also knew the public would want to just sweep it under the table, no one wants to hear about “their boys” dying of diarrhea or some other “undignified” disease. Even though war is ugly, and Whitman certainly painted that picture stealthily and effectively, he does it beautifully as well. The Better Angel mentions both “Sights–The Army Corps, Encamped on the War Field” and “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim”. Both poems are great examples of what one critic was quoted in The Better Angel as saying “gentle but lethal”.

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Virginia S. for September 22

missvirginia on Sep 21st 2009

So, I’ve worked retail for two years now. Those years have honed my skill for picking up items that are easy to sell, harder to sell, create selling points for the customer, etc. After finishing most of the readings between the 1855 and 1867 editions, I was looking back and comparing the table of contents. OH MY WORD–comparing just the table of contents was a little overwhelming. The 12, short and sweet, lines in the 1855 table of contents make the book seem so much more marketable, so much more less intimidating to read. Wikipedia reports, “Early advertisements for the first edition appealed to “lovers of literary curiosities” as an oddity. Sales on the book were few but Whitman was not discouraged.” In fact, Whitman seems to have written L of  G for the reader, he was being selfless in a sense. Wikipedia also recounts that “Whitman once said he intended the book to be small enough to be carried in a pocket. ‘That would tend to induce people to take me along with them and read me in the open air: I am nearly always successful with the reader in the open air.'” Whitman wants to be seen as a poet of the people, which we have already established. The 1855 edition is his rise, his ambition to become America’s Bard to the Citizens.

I’m thinking that Emerson’s letter somewhat reviewing L of G prompted Whitman to, like you said last week Scanlon, “micromanage”. Almost like when you tell someone you like their hair or a certain sweater and they ONLY wear their hair like that or they wear the damned sweater a million times a season. Wikipedia quotes Whitman saying that the 1867 edition was “‘a new & much better edition of Leaves of Grass complete — that unkillable work!'” Also, the 1867 edition, with it’s almost 80 poems, instead of the original 13, lacked the legendary frontispiece.

Whitman’s Civil War experiences definitely  influenced the 1867 version. You can tell because he filled the 1867 edition with SO much more, not to mention this is the first time Drum Taps is published. Obviously, he felt compelled to show the reader, instead of what a wonderful world we live in (and being able to reach the reader “by being in their pocket”) he wanted to show the gruesome, live-or-die side of life. Which, can also be the most alive side of life. The fight for life or death, especially in the scenes Walt observed, he wanted the general public to realize the fight their sons, husbands, and lovers were putting up and mostly losing to disease and lack of proper healthcare. From just the shear amount of new poems, a lot can be inferred from his experiences as a “nurse”, of sorts, in the “Great Effort”.

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Whitman…I am your stalker.

missvirginia on Sep 15th 2009

After learning about this Whitman course last spring, I made myself familiar with Whitman’s background by reading a biography. Thus, I can’t really think of a specific question–only that I wish I could have seen what Whitman saw when he was in NYC. I loooove NYC, my brother moved from our podunk town to the great cit-ay more than ten years ago. I really want to know the route that he took to get to Pfaff’s. If someone would tell me the address that Pfaff’s was at, and how he usually went, I’d Google-earth that mess in a heartbeat. Maybe I’ll put that research on my to-do list? Or someone can make it easy for me and let me know…

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Virginia for September 15th

missvirginia on Sep 13th 2009

As I was reading for this posting, I had something on my mind. In one of my other English classes, someone insinuated Whitman as just a gay old man. He said some more unsavory things towards my Whitman, and I immediately shot up my hand and said that I was in love with Whitman and did not take kindly to what he’d said.

Funny enough, in From Pent-up Aching Rivers (248), one of the first poems in the readings, I feel like there are so many allusions to bisexuality. Or maybe, not even bisexuality, just embracing all things sensual, intimate, and physical. Just on the fifth line, he mentions a phallus. Not to be “fifth grade” or anything, but hey! Phallic suggestion! Then he goes into the songs of “procreation, Singing the need of superb children and therein superb grown people” which reminded me of the physically obsessed Romans. It was a city-state obsessed with being the best physically, mentally, and seemingly always prepared for battle. Ironically enough, I’m sure Whitman’s rumored homosexuality was a battle for him, if he had ever been blatant about it.

The next line is “Singing the muscular urge and the blending”, which when I first read it, it seemed to be very cut and dry. The “muscular urge” is obvious phallic imagery and the blending is heterosexual intercourse. However, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed interchangeable. The muscular urge could be for both types of sex, because everyone (mostly…) orgasms which is a muscular urge/twitch/whatever. And the blending is describing the bodies creating that “superb child”. Even if the line is describing homosexual sex, blending could also describe the “two becoming one”-ness about sex.

Later on, after the swimmer lines, he lists “the mystic derliria, the madness amorous, and the utter abandonment”. I started thinking, is that the cycle for sex or relationships? I’m thinking it’s both–there is the initial attraction, the infatuation and “lust/love at first sight” ordeal. If we were to look at this from a relationship point of view, then there’s the content, “I love you, you love me, we can make this work forever” stage. Lastly, cue the jaws music…there’s the “utter abandonment”, the breakup. In sex, there’s the initial arousal that is called mystic deliria (catchy), then the main course…the madness amorous…and then the climax/refractory period where the feelings of abandonment can come in to play.

Whitman was pretty much exalting and proclaiming love. Love in armies (i.e. I Sing the Body Electric), love for women (i.e. A Woman Waits for Me), love in friendships with the same sex (i.e. Out of the Rolling Ocean the Crowd). In the words of Whitman himself, “Have you ever loved the body of a woman? Have you ever loved the body of a man? Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all nations and times all over the earth?” I think Whitman wanted people to be able to look past the body, to look within the person.

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Virginia’s Image Gloss

missvirginia on Sep 8th 2009

“The Yankee clipper is under her three skysails. . . .she cuts the sparkle and scud, My eyes settle the land . . . . I bend at her prow or shout joyously from the deck.” p. 35, Song of Myself

one definition: SCUD: loose vapory clouds driven swiftly by the wind

one definition: SCUD: loose vapory clouds driven swiftly by the wind

SCUD: As a noun:

  • Main Entry: 2scud
  • Function: noun
  • Date: 1609

1 : the action of scudding : rush
2 a : loose vapory clouds driven swiftly by the wind b (1) : a slight sudden shower (2) : mist, rain, snow, or spray driven by the wind c : a gust of wind

SCUD: As a verb:

  • Main Entry: 1scud
  • Pronunciation: \ˈskəd\
  • Function: intransitive verb
  • Inflected Form(s): scud·ded; scud·ding
  • Etymology: perhaps from Middle Dutch schudden to shake
  • Date: 1532

1 : to move or run swiftly especially as if driven forward <clouds scudding across the sky>
2 : to run before a gale

-from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Being from Appomattox, about four hours from the coast, I am not familiar with sea vessel terms or colloquial vocabulary seen on the coast or heard from those familiar with that atmosphere. When researching this, I found that SCUD also refers to missiles the Soviet Union made. Ironic, don’t you think?

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Virginia for Sept 8th

missvirginia on Sep 6th 2009

Whitman proves himself a definite advocate for nature. Not to mention, he seems to be vying for the position of bard to the United States. In almost every poem except for Song of the Open Road, he is painting such a gorgeous, descriptive picture and reminding us of the beauty we are surrounded with each day. He also mixes whether the beauty is from something earthly or human. Song of the Open Road gives us little vignettes on what the earth/God/passerby see. “The black with his woolly head, the felon, the diseas’d…the early market man, the hearse,” that gives us an idea of the “ordinary man” or the typical, blue collar American Whitman saw traveling in D.C. or walking home from his favorite bar in Manhattan. He begins to describe the scenery, “…You rows of houses! you window-pierc’d facades…” He continues in expanding his view, instead of mainly appreciating the beauty of what can be seen when traveling he remarks on himself, on human acts. “I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,” Whitman speaks. The juxtaposition of miracle-making in such a ho-hum, ordinary place is beautiful. Whitman feels connected to the road, “I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you, You express me better than I can express myself.”

However, Whitmans usual happy tone is exchanged for a more forewarning manner. “The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first.” Yet, Whitman still keeps a optimistic outlook with  the phrase “at first” in those stanzas. He knows that there is a way to get past the rudeness or silence. He says later, “Listen! I will be honest with you, I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes.” He evens alludes to rites of passage in saying, “these are the days that must happen to you,” almost like once you get past it, you are a citizen, a part of the group.

Thus, Whitman realizes that the social constructs of the culture America had did not facilitate an easy assimilation. The Irish, Asians, and African-Americans were the rookies he was talking to when he said, “Out of the dark confinement! Out from behind the screen! It is useless to protest, I know all and expose it.” Whitman is reminding the oppressed, in any state (social, racial, gender), that the treatement they get is not fair. He then encourages people, “The President is there in the White House for you, it is not you who are here for him.” Whitman attempts to create a knowledgeable, less naive outlook. He refuses to turn a blind eye to any American who is being targeted by discrimination. He is the epitome of what Americans think other Americans should be like, tolerable, natural, and passionate.

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Virginia for September 1st

missvirginia on Sep 1st 2009

Whitman seems to strive to create a very patriotic, and almost familial, relationship with the reader in his preface from 1885. It makes the reader feel like Whitman is trying to encompass all that is American, natural, earthy, and true to the culture of 1885-America. He mentions the “blue breadth over the inland sea of Virginia and Maryland and the sea off Massachusetts and Maine and over Manhattan bay and over Champlain and Erie and over Ontario and Huron…” He continues for about 9 more lines describing the geography, atmosphere, plants, etc. He rants and raves, furiously in love with America and desperately wanting the reader to grasp onto this love and be carried away as well. One of the ending lines is, “The soul of the largest and wealthiest and proudest nation may well go halfway to meet that of its poets…The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” Obviously, Whitman is vying for the title of Poet Laureate of the United States of America.

In his patriotic, maybe cheesy, stance, it is a good marketing strategy. Leaves of Grass was not a huge seller right off the bat, but I’m sure the readers who did flip through it felt connected, almost like they were doing a civic duty. In his last lines describing how a poet becomes the country and such, it’s empowering to a reader to read something that loyal. It creates an affirmation of the bond between citizen and country, but that citizen then becomes loyal to the writer as well. Loyalty is based upon relationship; when a poet/writer interjects a nationalistic relationship like Whitman seems to have done, he creates a fan base.

Song of Myself also does this, but not to the same exaggerated degree in mentioning all the HOME lakes on the Canadian border. Song of Myself is much more intimate, it describes complete scenes, like “In vain the buzzard houses herself with the sky, in vain the snake slides through the creepers and logs, in vain the elk takes to inner passes of the woods, in vain the razorbilled auk sails far north to Labrador…” In each of these lines a scene is played out, it is not so outstretched that it becomes kitschy or cheesy.

Overall, both were powerful, uplifting pieces. Song of Myself is obviously more self-absorbed, both for the reader and Whitman. It’s narcissistic because throughout the poem, I is a constant. The ending line is “I stop some where waiting for you”. And there is no period. There is no finality. To end on a narcissistic note, I think it is because in a relationship there is very rarely a complete end.

word count: 454

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