Tag-Archive for » legacy «

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 | Author:

In thinking about Whitman’s legacy, I got curious about how much Modernist writers beyond Pound and Williams were engaging him– that is, how much he’d become a common name or referent in writing of the time.  So I went to the awesome and ever-growing Modernist Journals Project to poke around.  A search for “Walt Whitman” (used first name to screen out candy advertisements, but it probably limited my hits) yielded 111 references.  In addition to the examples below, which represent just a fraction, reviews and advertisements for Traubel’s volumes, for a volume of Whitman’s letters with Anne Gilchrist, for publications of Leaves, etc.  indicate an interest in Whitman as well.  Throughout the magazines, Whitman is compared to Poe, to Lincoln, to Mallarme, to Swinburne, to Blake, etc. etc.

One of the most prominent uses of Whitman is that the journal Poetry, of central importance in the history of Modernism, from its very first issue in 1912 included this on its back cover:

To have great poets there must be great

audiences, too.—Whitman.

HELP us to give the art of poetry an organ in America. Help us to give the poets a chance to be heard in their own place, to offer us their best and most serious work instead of page-end poems squeezed in between miscellaneous articles and stories.

If you love good poetry, subscribe.

If you believe that this art, like painting, sculpture, music and architecture, requires and deserves public recognition and support,subscribe.

If you believe with Whitman that “the topmost proof of a race is its own born poetry,” subscribe.

Throughout various issues, the question of whether or not great poetry needs great audiences is actively taken up by Harriet Monroe, Poetry‘s editor, and Ezra Pound, who disagree about it.  Eventually, by the start of Volume 2,  the back cover uses only that quote by Whitman and dropped the rest of the text above.

By October 1915 in Poetry, a comment written by Alice Corbin Henderson, engaging with a critical letter written about the publication of Carl Sandburg in the magazine (ouch!  take that, Mr. Hervey!), calls on Whitman as an elder statesman, a judge of all that is good in poetry:

“And, by the way, what, oh, what do you suppose Walt would have thought of Miss Monroe’s magazine if he had lived to see it?”  So asks Mr. John L. Hervey in a recent letter to The Dial. The question is delightfully suggestive.  We would love to know just what Walt Whitman would have thought of POETRY. It is not impossible that Mr. Hervey thinks that Walt would have thought of POETRY just what he, Mr. Hervey, thinks of the magazine. No doubt it is under this conviction that Mr. Hervey delivers this last, smashing blow! Still, there isn’t any way of being sure that Walt would have come out on Mr. Hervey’s side. Walt was very tolerant ; tolerant of poets—you remember his charming, “I like your tinkle, Tom,” to Thomas Bailey Aldrich ; also tolerant of editors—of Richard Watson Gilder, to whom Whitman’s November Boughs “did not appeal” for publication in The Century.

No, it’s a toss-up just what Walt would have thought about the magazine. Undoubtedly, he would have thought about it just as each of you, whoever you are, now reading this magazine, think about it.  For the great dead, curiously enough, always mold their opinions to suit their admirers.  . . .  And now Mr. Hervey wants Miss Monroe to say what Carl Sandburg’s poems will mean to the reader of fifty years hence, if she thinks any of them will live that long.  Mr. Hervey himself does not risk a direct opinion.  Fortunately there were people intelligent and courageous enough to risk an opinion on Whitman fifty years ago.  And these people were not the editors of magazines, who “knew what the people wanted,” and took no risks. If Whitman had waited for them, Mr. Hervey might have missed his Walt, and he would then have had to invoke some other shadowy figure . . . to pass mythical judgment upon the new poetry.  . . .  Would Walt applaud the risk taken by Miss Monroe in publishing it, or would he, too, like Mr. Hervey, be shocked by her temerity?

In volume 1.3 of Poetry (1912), this discussion of Whitman’s continental influence is given:

It is significant of American tardiness in the development of a national literary tradition that the name of Walt Whitman is today a greater influence with the young writers of the continent than with our own.  Not since France discovered Poe has literary Europe been so moved by anything American.  The suggestion has even been made that ‘Whitmanism’ is rapidly to supersede ‘Nietzscheism’ as the dominant factor in modern thought.  Léon Bazalgette translated Leaves of Grass into French in 1908.  A school of followers of the Whitman philosophy and style was an almost immediate consequence.  Such of the leading reviews as sympathize at all with the strong ‘young’ movement to break the shackles of classicism which have so long bound French prosody to the heroic couplet, the sonnet, and the alexandrine, are publishing not only articles on ‘Whitmanism’ as a movement, but numbers of poems in the new flexible chanting rhythms.

In the second volume of BLAST, a Vorticist journal edited by Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, a column entitled AMERICAN ART contains the following:

American art, when it comes, will be Mongol, inhuman,optimistic, and very much on the precious side, as opposed to European pathos and solidity.

Wait Whitman Bland and easy braggart of a very cosmic self.  He lies, salmon-coloured and serene, whitling  a stick in a very eerie dawn, oceanic emotion handy at his elbow.

What?!  BLAST also describes a book as having “a soul like Walt Whitman, but none of the hirsute mistakes of that personage, and invention instead of sensibility” (!).

Whitman appears comparatively in book reviews, as in this one on D.H. Lawrence (authorial commentary: boo Lawrence): “‘Leaves of Grass ‘ rise to one’s mind as this fine catalogue is proclaimed; it seems to me now that Walt Whitman’s poetry is the only proper parallel to Mr. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers'” (The Blue Review 1.3).

Whitman is referenced repeatedly as a thinker moreso than poet in The New Age, a publication which describes itself as “an independent socialist review of politics, literature and art” or, eventually, “a weekly review of politics, literature and art”  (examples just below from issues in 1907):

The dominant idea of Whitman, for example, is undeniably friendship, or what he calls camaraderie ; and the fact that the early Socialists called each other Comrade without distinction of sex is Significant.

This example, from a book review of a collection by Edward Carpenter, is bound to make Brendon as mad as it made me:

The politicians may make Socialism ; but such a spirit as Carpenter’s is required to make Socialists. I remember making in a moment of dubious inspiration an epithet for Carpenter that appeared to me at the time essentially true. I called him Mrs. Whitman. Whitman certainly impressed one with the sense of masculinity ; and equally certainly there are qualities in Carpenter that strike one as womanly.

In February 1910, a writer laments the shaky condition of American letters:

Nothing mortified me so much as to be told by an Englishman that Europe absorbs our finest talent. I was angry. He then began to call the names–Whistler, Sargent, Shannon, Abbey, Henry James, Henry Harland, and others of whom I had never heard. He named so many I cannot recall them. He wound up by saying Walt Whitman would have been far happier had he lived in England where he would have had a public instead of a small coterie in his own country. Needless to say my anger gave place to shame and mortification.

In November 1915, The New Age reprints this part of a review of a translation of Whitman (as an example of an ass’s bray):

To him all is without exceptions just as in prostitution to him all men are “friends,” just as to the prostitute everyone is a guest.  Pah ! Pah ! What blindness! Whitman is blind and deaf, for he does not distinguish and, therefore, does not select, neither colours nor sounds nor persons. And the human soul?–he has no comprehension of it.

We too beg, of course, to disagree.

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Monday, November 16th, 2009 | Author:

I can’t believe I forgot to scan this, but check it out:

“A Pact”

by Ezra Pound

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman –
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root –
Let there be commerce between us.

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Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 | Author:

My reaction to our reading this week has been so mixed– in some ways, I feel a sense of closure, of finality as we focus on the last edition and the last days.  That reflects, I think, the personal, human Whitman we have gotten attached to this semester, since obviously as a literature professor I must have an unshakeable faith in the power of the work to outlive its maker and its time . . . right?  his work doesn’t reach closure because his body does.  But it doesn’t feel like it today.  Instead, my sense that with Whitman’s “death” (felt like checking the obits this a.m.) comes an unbreachable divide makes me frantic… don’t die now, Walt Whitman!  I have a lot left to read, to learn, to blog!  It’s too soon for me!  Maybe I am responding to the waning days of Digital Whitman more than the loss of Walt Whitman, but it’s crazy how those have become hard to separate lately.

Well, I include here something I found in our old friend Reynolds, a bit of letter WW sent with an advance copy of the deathbed edition on December 6, 1891 (intertextual note: 11 days before he took the “severe chill” that Longaker says marks “the invasion of the fatal sickness”):

L. of G. at last complete—after 33 y’rs of hackling at it, all times & moods of my life, fair weather & foul, all parts of the land, and peace & war, young & old—

O Whitman, Our Whitman (image from ExplorePAHistory.com)
O Whitman, Our Whitman (image from ExplorePAHistory.com)
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Tuesday, November 03rd, 2009 | Author:

“Get Well Soon :)”

Once steady hands now faltering from your fall,

this hand that penned mountains, sung through ferry waters, hewn rough earth boys, their bodies taken by war as your body has taken you.

You, the kosmos, can not be taken by such human failings.

Calamus cane in hand, stand erect, your perpetual journey is still left to tramp.

Your America is orphaned without your voice, your body; without your arms to encircle her.

You shall yet whisper your secrets in my ear, leaning on my shoulder should you need it.

Comrade, let me now take your hand and show you what you have shown me.

                                                                                                                                    —Jessica and Erin


O spew that slicks the trash can beside us!
You do not demean, you do not debase,
You ennoble the pig history,
and call up dead cats, 
and provoke my soul and throat alike.
O great herds of men!
Move on like cattle,
Rattle in your corners, trapped
behind signs and glass-cases
coats!  Take what you can!
Don’t slow the time- pus 
impeding to the balcony.
Come Children!  From Stafford, from
Fredericksburg, from Virginia-
worthy of the North- and Pittsburgh-
just as equal to the South.
Fill my city, flush out its
stubborn geometry,
press against the corners and angles,
passing impenetrable limousines.
I know you have felt unworthy-
I know you have marveled at my materials,
Stared inside my bag,
(What where you looking for?
What would you have hoped to find?  Would I
have left something?  I spare nothing.  Not even
Take my hair and complete the rest!
Take it!
The librarian sees far less than we.
And I know best what to watch.
Never mind overstepping me,
Never mind the route around the library,
Never mind punctuality,
Never mind the rain-
I fill all spaces.
I press against the sidewalks’ undersides.
                                                                                                                    –Courtney and Sam P

“Rise o Dancers from your Courtyard Plaza”

Rise o dancers from your courtyard plaza, till you stomping, snapping, spin,

Sidelong my eyes devoured what your practice gave me,

Long I roamed the streets of DC, long I watched the rain pouring,

I traveled Walt Whitman Way and slept in the seats of Ford’s Theatre, I crossed the streets, I jumped the puddles,

I descended to the secret tunnel and sail’d out to the Metro,

I sailed through the storm, I was soaked by the storm,

I watched with joy Chelsea threatening Sam

I mark’d the water lines where puddles splashed so high,

I heard the wind piping, I saw the black clouds,

Saw from afar what thrilled and moonwalked (O hilarious! O ridiculous as my heart, and


Heard the continuous beat as it bellowed over the car horns.

                                                                                                                    —Brendon and Sam K.


“O Wondrous Washington!”

O wondrous Washington!

City of rain and wind,

You drench us in amorous drops;

Our limbs move weary in recycled steps—

O wretched limbs!

Let us deliciously journey

And see your scribbled ink,

And feel the buzz of your presence,

And read the immortal words,

And rattle our frames with splendid, tattered images,

And depart limp and satiated.

O to find you and taste fully of your knowledge!

Wet lips, wet shoes, wet hair—

Wondrous, enriched fatigue.

                                                                                                                                  –Allison and Sarah


On Sunken Road I heard the calls of soldiers past—

O, Sergeant Richard Kirkland, you cradle one, my brother comrade, I could have sworn you were an angel watching me from your periphery, adoring.

It being the real, still-standing portion of the wall, I imagine the sons of the nation, and also the daughters, facing each other, their hearts join’d as joints of a wall by perforation;

Limbs erect as the rifles readied by their masters to unroot the Calamus,

I walk’d the gravel path with Kirkland, Lee, Whitman—fearless of intolerant rebels who might flank the figures of my mind:

White opposition approaches—a different union entire.

                                                                                                         —Meghan, Virginia, and Natalie


I sing the now-pav’d road which underneath my soles spanned the nubbed monument to the beds of delicate soldiers,

Where my callous hands soothed wounds from a war of brother against brother,

The road, infinite, wandering past Georgetown and the Potomac and the garbage eating pigs

And the mud and Andrew Jackson airing laundry and the doors of Saint John’s church  looking out onto the White Mansion and the canals, and the old warriors walking five stories for one month’s check, and the theatre where my brother, my comrade, fell and spoke no more

Oh road now pav’d over blood! Pav’d over me! I trod your streets once known in dirt

you conceal me, can I learn your roads once more?

                                                                                                                     —Chelsea and Ben 

Tuesday, November 03rd, 2009 | Author:



Free Lance Star, 11/3/09

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Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 | Author:

Immediacy is something the Reverend talks about as a benefit of the blog, social networking technologies, and the great digital experiment that is Looking for Whitman.  PresenceAccessibility.  These are words we use a lot.  So this week a question has been dogging me while I process Digital Whitman’s Saturday field trip to Washington City.  This pair of images sets it up:

WW notebook #94, Library of Congress

WW notebook #94, Library of Congress American Memory site

WW notebook, photo by MNS, Library of Congress

WW notebook, photo by MNS, Library of Congress

The one on top is from a link to the Library of Congress I gave the class a few weeks ago, urging them to use these digitized images to study what OMW recorded about the soldiers.  The bottom was taken on our field trip, and is surprisingly focused given that I, Brady Earnhart, and our students were nearly all literally in tears in that weird institutional room with lockers, blackened windows, and government-issue tables.  Unless we were crying with simple gratitude for the incredible time that Barbara Bair had given us (or because we were soaked to the bloody skin  and had been standing for 10 hours with two or three to go), why were we?  Nothing was much easier to read in person, as those of us who stumbled reading aloud can attest (writing still spidery, bleeding through paper, plastic protection on many items reflected flourescent glare, etc.).  We couldn’t touch anything (though, good lord, we certainly breathed all over it), couldn’t feel the paper, the wood, the leather, the hair (the hair!).

Whitman's hair, deathbed edition, photo by MNS 10/24/09

Whitman's hair, deathbed edition, photo by MNS 10/24/09

I couldn’t even smell the leather of that haversack or of its decay, and I have one good super-sniffer.

cue to tears: the haversack, photo by MNS 10/24/09

cue to tears: the haversack, photo by MNS 10/24/09

Obviously, what I am suggesting is this: the artifacts of the Library of Congress archive were in some ways no more accessible or immediate (indeed, let’s be honest, a lot LESS accessible or even immediate if we mean time instead of proximity) than the digitized images of those artifacts online.  I saw that the inside of the haversack is brown canvas.  Brendon found a fingerprint and will NOT entertain suggestions that it belongs to anyone but Walt Whitman.  But tears?

Presence.  Through the blog we are present to each other online even when we are physically apart during the week (or have never seen each other: hallooo out there, Brooklyn, Camden, and Novi Sad!).  Agreed.  But finally Saturday we were (good) old-fashioned groupies, we were Whitman lovers, and we were bodies (finer than prayer, but, geez, we were a bit rank by Hour Ten of the marathon).  We desired the physical–the textured, the pasted, the water-stained.  We may have cried because the broken skins of brittle pages and fragile covers, the light-sensitive [associative digression: Whitman’s Camden eyeglasses: so small, and with one lens protectively glazed over after strokes] and subsequently entombed haversack, and the tickets to a lecture on Lincoln long since delivered were as close to Whitman (brittle, entombed…) as we are going to get, as present as we can be.  Unlike the wounded soldiers, we won’t get the healing presence of his 200-pound, hirsute, maroon-coated, deep-pocketed self.  But it turns out that the digitized can’t hold a gas lamp to the physically present, and even if it’s paper and not flesh, I’ll take it.  Whitmaniacs, pass the tissues.

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 | Author:

I was reading in yesterday’s Washington Post in a piece called “Beyond ‘Great,’ to Exemplary” that Whitman’s “O Captain!” is one of about five works identified by the National Standards Initiative as it tries to give guidance to high school teachers about what students should know– with Austen, Morrison, and a few others, it was given as an exemplar of something requiring complex interpretive skills, and the article implied that the choice was probably not controversial.  This got me thinking about a conversation I had with Professor Nina Mikhalevsky, whose Banned and Dangerous Art course I linked to some weeks ago.  She was remarking to me that she can’t believe that Whitman, whom she characterized as a radical thinker, had become such a national icon.  At the time, I was focused on Whitman’s desire to be recognized as a poet for/of his nation, which makes iconic status more sensible, but lately I’ve been musing more about. . .

Whitman, American Rebel Idol.

A few examples:

Walt Whitman High, Bethesda, MD

Walt Whitman High, Bethesda, MD

Walt Whitman High School, Huntington Station, NY

Walt Whitman High School, Huntington Station, NY

The Walt Whitman Bridge (PA-NJ)

The Walt Whitman Bridge (PA-NJ)

The Walt Whitman Mall (Huntington Station, NY)

The Walt Whitman Mall (Huntington Station, NY)

Walt Wit Beer (Philly)

Walt Wit Beer (Philly)

LOC image, Whitman cigar box from 1898

LOC image, Whitman cigar box from 1898

Whitman-Walker AIDS clinic, Washington DC

Whitman-Walker AIDS clinic, Washington DC

Walt Whitman Hotel, Camden , NJ

Walt Whitman Hotel, Camden , NJ

Walt Whitman T from LOLA (one of many)

Walt Whitman T from LOLA (one of many)

Walt Whitman Fence Company (NY)

Walt Whitman Fence Company (NY)

Mad Magazine, 1967

Mad Magazine, 1967

Campers at Camp Walt Whitman, Piermont, NH

Campers at Camp Walt Whitman, Piermont, NH

Jesse Merandy (CUNY) with WW impersonator (Camden)

Jesse Merandy (CUNY) with WW impersonator (Camden)

Walt Whitman Service Area

Walt Whitman Service Area



Historical marker (NY)

Historical marker (NY)

Walt Whitman Golf (Bethesda)

Walt Whitman Golf (Bethesda)

WW Park (Brooklyn)

WW Park (Brooklyn)

Obvious College Football connection

Obvious College Football connection

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Monday, September 28th, 2009 | Author:

Again, Sharon Olds:

You move between the soldiers’ cots

the way I move among my dead,

their white bodies laid out in lines.


You bathe the forehead, you bathe the lip, the cock,

as I touch my father, as if the language

were a form of life.


You write their letters home, I take the dictation

of his firm dream lips, this boy

I love as you love your boys.


They die and you still feel them.  Time

becomes unpertinent to love,

to the male bodies in beds.


We bend over them, Walt, taking their breath

soft on our faces, wiping their domed brows,

stroking back the coal-black Union hair.


We lean down, our pointed breasts

heavy as plummets with fresh spermy milk–

we conceive, Walt, with the men we love, thus, now,

we bring to fruit.

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Sunday, September 27th, 2009 | Author:

As if that wasn’t enough: this one is actually Whitman!  Cut from the ad, the final two lines of the poem: “A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother, / Chair’d in the adamant of Time.”

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Sunday, September 27th, 2009 | Author:

A former student, Amanda Rutstein, just sent me this link to a Levi's commercial.  I think you will recognize the poem (indeed, I think some of us have trashed it--does this change your mind?), but the images, sound effects (gun shots?), homoeroticism, etc. call for some analysis.  Among other questions, would Whitman love this or feel co-opted by capitalism?  After all, Levi's are the working man's jeans...

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