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    Since the geographic focus of our particular course includes nothing so far off and up the continent as the Penobscot River (Jim says we’re a Southern town, so this is in the interest of balance), I figured we could use a partial compendium of the more obscure towns, regions and bodies of water Whitman calls up in “Song of the Broad-Axe.”  Whitman proves again to be the father of a popular and entirely contemporary cultural practice: the place-name shout-out.  (See Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers album for more current evidence.)

    • Willamette (332): a regional name in Oregon that belongs simultaneously to a town, a valley, that valley’s river, and a national forest.

    Willamette River Valley

    • “the most ancient Hindustanee” (337): Hindustan is an umbrella term for South Asia, though it now commonly refers more specifically to the Republic of India.  The name refers, of course, to the region’s prevailing currents of Hindu religion and culture.
    • “Cutters down of wood and haulers of it to the Penobscot or Kennebec” (339): Both the Penobscot and the Kennebec are south-flowing Maine rivers that empty into the Atlantic Ocean.
    from Wikipedia

    Penobscot River watershed

    Of course, these names might have seemed no less distant, and even exotic, to mid-nineteenth-century American readers than California, Ottawa and the Rio Grande, which Whitman also includes in the poem’s vastly encompassing enumerations.  Such far-reaching invocations lend the poem an inclusive scope that acknowledges the specific identity of every inch of the nation Whitman apostrophizes in his writing:

    “(America! I do not vaunt my love for you,

    I have what I have.)” (338)

    All geographical information provided by Wikipedia.  Whitman would use it, you know.

    16 Responses to “Sam P.’s Image Gloss”

    1. tallersam says:

      I really appreciate this image gloss: the east-west span of your American locations emphasizes how Whitman wants the entire country to be included in his philosophy, to be a part of the future that he sees coming.
      The “Hindustanee” term, while it does bring foreign people under his umbrella, also points to the fact that his treatment of those people is not at the same level as his treatment of America. “Hindustanee” seems like an overly-generalizing term: it is surprising that this would come from the same man that can spout off such long lists of specific American traits and locations.

    2. Erin Longbottom says:

      It’s weird how a name that is no longer used or at least commonly used (Hindustanee) can make something seem so far away and in the past. Obviously all those countries are still around, but it feels like he is referring to some lost land.
      I wonder how many people, both then and now, knew what the Penobscot and the Kennebec are. Even though he wanted to encompass all of America, it’s still kind of a strange reference. I wonder if they were more well known in the past and that’s why he used them?
      Also not really related, but isn’t Willamette Valley in the Oregon Trail games?

    3. taraw says:

      Being a Camden-ite, I really appreciate the locality of your blog. I especially like your ending comment about the specificity of every inch of the nation. It reminds me of the part of “Song of Myself” where he declares that himself, as well as everything around him, has an intricate purpose – and that the “insignificant is as big as any” to him. The specificity of the inches of the nation is at the heart of Whitman. Nicely done. :)

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