The Secret Song: An Exploration of Latent Homoeroticism in Section 11 of Song of Myself

Song of Myself is a poem of bold declarations that egotistically assert Walt Whitman’s place and purpose in the context of a world of immense scope and romantically instilled vigor. And yet located within this chaotic unfurling of identity there is one piece of the poem that stands out as a conspicuously reserved, reflective fragment. This moment of breath in Whitman’s otherwise energetic tirade is located at the opening of section 11, which deals with Whitman’s repressed homosexual longings. The quiet repetition and connected lines of questioning in this section flow together to create a latent persistence to the sexual urges being described. Towards the end of the section Whitman introduces erotic imagery and a careful interplay of terse and soft, sensual sounds to convey a striking edge to his desires. These desires are not expressed in first person, but instead they manifest themselves into imaginative action in the mind of the section’s female character. Thus the poet manages to weave vivid sensuality into the section while removing himself from the scene in order to create a poetic puppet show of his own sexual dilemma.

The repetition in the first three lines of the section serves to immediately establish its separateness from the rest of the poem. The “twenty-eight young men” that open these lines are unlike Whitman’s other repetitions – they do not carry the charged momentum of assertion, but rather reflect a progressive contemplation by virtue of their brevity and simple, connective language. The first line merely states the presence of the men. The second line hints at the woman’s attraction towards them by highlighting their “friendliness”. The third line adds a melancholy response that places this attraction within the context of the woman’s sexual repression. By describing her life as “all so lonesome” the speaker plainly expresses sympathy for her need to remain trapped in her house in a disguise of “fine clothes”. The bizarre obviousness of calling her life “womanly” is Whitman’s first acknowledgement that her condition represents his own. The wording is strange for a description of a repressed woman, but makes perfect sense when describing the femininity of the poet’s own sexual desires. He, like her, is forced to shutter in his desires behind metaphorical window blinds. By placing this revelation at the end of three repetitive lines Whitman manages to capture the persistence of these desires, thus further evoking an air of sympathy around his condition of repressed homosexuality.

Following the establishment of the woman’s imprisonment as representing sexual repression the poem presents two couplets that open with questions. These four lines are both inquisitive and declarative in their progressive exploration of repression. By asking, “Which of the young men does she like the best?” and then answering “the homeliest” Whitman is fully establishing the sexual attraction hinted at in line three. The second set of questions elaborates on the disparity between the onlooking woman’s mental state and her active state. In her mind, and in the mind of the poet, the attraction to the men compels the onlooker to wander down to the bathing site. The long, blithe vowels of the phrase “splash in the water there” unravel into the kind of carefree sexual expression that the poet desires. Yet, the terse, rigid vowels and accusatory consonants of “yet stay stock still” follow with an undercutting of this sexual fantasy. This harsh return to reality mirrors the poet’s captive actuality and inability to fulfill his desires.

The entrance of the twenty-ninth bather into the poem allows the poet to sever his fantasy from the anchors of reality that inhibit his sexual exploration, thus allowing thought to manifest itself in action. The numerology belying the number twenty-nine symbolizes the kind of newness and “original energy without check” that Whitman strives for throughout Song of Myself. The starting count of twenty-eight bathers connects to natural femininity by virtue of its connotations with the menstrual cycle. The introduction of the alien number twenty-nine disrupts the naturalness of this cycle but at the same time creates something new that transcends conventional boundaries of male and female sexuality.

The poem’s response to this newness is a paradoxical mixture of guilty concealment and erotic release; the twenty-ninth bather is rendered invisible in the presence of the young men, but still allowed to sexually engage them. This interplay of latent eroticism and anxiety over discovery manifests itself in the language and sounds used to describe the new bather’s interactions with the men. Whitman’s own agonizing sexual longings emanate from the stretched “n”‘s and long vowel sounds used to describe the motion of the invisible bather as he “declines with pendant and bending arch”. The caressing “s”‘s and playful “t”‘s of the description “glistened with wet” and the softness of the ejaculatory metaphor “souse with spray” dance above darker, subterranean “r” sounds describing the motion of an invisible hand that moves “tremblingly from their temples and ribs”. All the while the invisibility of the new bather is emphasized by the poem’s exclusive focus on the remaining twenty-eight. This effect is achieved through Whitman’s repetition of the word “they”, which not only conceals the twenty-ninth bather from view but also once again emphasizes his separateness from the world of conventional sexuality that the other bathers represent.

The fact that Whitman chooses to deal with the issue of sexual repression through a set of characters in section 11 constitutes an unusual departure from his poetic style in the rest of the poem. Outside section 11, Song of Myself openly embraces the corporeal and the sexual in an often-arrogant first person. Even the title of the poem is an unambiguous statement of egotism. Yet despite his overconfident poetic voice, Whitman was uncomfortable in dealing with his alleged homosexuality in the public sphere, and section 11 is an expression of this individual discomfort. It is additionally feasible to extend interpretation of the section to address the condition of homosexuals in America as a whole. As with the rest of the poem, the section deals not only with the poet’s identity, but also with exploring the identity of the American national character. Thus the fact that section 11 feels disjointed from the dynamic of Song of Myself speaks strongly of the alienation of all homosexuals during Whitman’s writing period. The fact that this feeling of alienation could divert even Whitman’s bold poetic style into cryptic poetic masquerade is a strong testament to its persistence and strength. Like his woman in the house on the rise, and like countless closet homosexuals in America, Whitman could never openly embrace true sexual freedom, but was rather forced to wander in secret fantasy beyond boundaries of stigma and alienation that he could never actually traverse.

The Deconstruction of Self in Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself

In 1917 Marcel Duchamp took a urinal, detached it from its usual setting, entitled it “Fountain” and called it art. By putting such a common, unglamorous object in this innovative context, Duchamp raised a new awareness of the urinal. Its familiarities dissipated as it was looked at as art, as sculpture, as a statement, or as a ridiculous joke. Regardless of the reaction, the urinal ceased to be overlooked or taken for granted. This act of taking the familiar and rendering it foreign by forcing people to interpret it differently and look at it in a new way is a method employed by Walt Whitman in Song of Myself. Although his methods and subject could not be more different from Duchamp’s, both artists are similar in their basic act of deconstructing and making unfamiliar something that is so commenplace it is never contemplated.The idea of self is something that seems to make sense at first but loses its meaning rapidly upon contemplation. Most people cannot separate the idea of self from their individual personalities. “Define yourself,” a person could be asked, and they would probably reply something close it “it is me, who I am, myself.” It does not take long to see the problem. The idea of self is rooted in the everyday, but it is so abstract that it cannot be defined. The same can be true of almost anything, and it is enough to drive one mad looking at each object that surrounds them and asking “What is it?” However, this extensive questioning is impossible, impractical, and unnecessary. In the breaking down of something as basic as self, it is inevitable that other basic ideas are broken down as well. Walt Whitman realizes this in his Song of Myself, where, in questioning the idea of self, he questions other related ideas such as the body, death, and the relationship between the individual, others, and nature. By using vivid, evocative language to addres questions that are essentially unanswerable, contradicting himself, and oscillating between the assertion of individuality and the interconnectedness of everything, Whitman breaks down the meaning of self and creates a void in its stead.The most accessible definition of self is that it is what makes someone who they are, and a large part of identity is the physical body. The body is a major theme in Song of Myself because it is so open to interpretation. Whitman takes full advantage of this range. In doing so, he makes something as familiar as the body into something foreign. Whitman addresses the issue of the body and how it is connected with the self in two contradictory manners. The first breaks down the boundaries between self and other by treating the body as continuous with the outside world. The body is conceived not as an individual entity, but as a part of a greater whole. In the first poem this is asserted with such lines as “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (3) and “My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air” (6). These two lines connect the self to both other people and to the earth, a theme that continues throughout the poem. In poem 37, for example, Whitman speaks of “instant conductors all over me whether I pass or stop, / They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me (615-16).” This seems to join his physical body to everything else around him, rendering him a part of the surrounding environment.Whitman also seems infatuated with the idea that something foreign can become part of the self either figuratively or literally. He makes references to the acts of breathing and eating, both which bring in outside elements into the body, creating a bond between the body and its environment. In poem 33 he discusses how what one swallows becomes part of oneself. He writes, “All I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes mine” (831). Regardless of what the body is part of, Whitman specifies that what constitutes self is not contingent on the physical body. He states that he is “not contain’d between my hat and boots” (133) which illustrates his belief that the self transcends the body.On the other hand are Whitman’s corporeal statements of bodily individuality. Numerous references are made throughout the poem to the specific aspects of the body in general and Whitman’s body specifically. He uses carnal, fleshy images such as “I believe in flesh an the appetites” (522) and “I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones” (400) in order to celebrate the physical body. Not only does Whitman celebrate the body, he celebrates the normally neglected aspects such as “the scent of these warm arm-pits aroma finer than prayer” (525).This idea that the individual body contradicts the former assertion of the body as continuous with everything else. However, this contradiction is the major device that Whitman employs in order to defamiliarize the body and explore many aspects and interpretations. If Whitman proposed one specific interpretation of the body and its connection to self, he would destroy the idea of the poem which asserts that there is no single answer to anything. Whitman acknowledges this method o utilizing contradictions in order to lead the readers into thinking for themselves when he states “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” (1324-26). It is an essential sentence and Whitman incorporates it in the poem in order to allow the reader to understand that the contradictions do not have to make sense because there is no one correct answer to anything. This method of simultaneously holding conflicting beliefs further contributes to the deconstruction of the meaning of self. It states that self is not solid or true but rather open to various interpretations that are all correct.The relationship between the body and other is continued and elaborated in the broader issue of the self in relation to others and to nature. This concept is another major theme throughout the poem. Whitman asserts his individuality through the very act of singing of himself, but he also refers to himself as closely connected, and even part of, every other person on this earth. One device he uses is repetition, both of words and or concepts. In poem 37 he lists various people and then describes how he feels their ordeals as if they are happening to him.Not a youngster is taken for larceny but I go too, and am tired and sentencedNot a cholera patient lies at the last gasp but I also lie at the last gasp […]Askers embody themselves in me and I am embodied in them, (953-56)Whitman repeats that he is connected to everybody and that he derives himself from the things that he has seen others experience. He is not literally stating that he feels the pain of others but that the self is something that is constructed from experiences and that everything that happens in the world influences the creation of an individual self just as atoms and air can physically link people. This theme is consistent throughout the poem. Whitman often devotes long passages to vivid descriptions of people, from prostitutes to the president. Each person receives a line of evocative language, such as “The clean hair’d Yankee girl works with her sewing machine or in the factory or mill” (295) or “Out from the crowd steps the marksman, takes his position, levels his piece” (284). These vivid descriptions summon certain images that Whitman later incorporates into himself, saying that “of these one and all I weave the song of myself,” (329) which means that what one perceives becomes part of oneself.Ties with nature are important as well. Whitman expresses a link or desire to be linked with the air and grass, representatives of nature. In poem 2 he wants to be in contact with the atmosphere, he is “mad for it to be in contact with” himself (20). An almost sexual desire to be united with nature and the people of the world pervades this part of the poem. Whitman often uses the language of sex to discuss himself, whether he is talking of undressing in order to feel closer to the earth of the desire to create new life. The idea of undressing is particularly important because it represents the idea of stripping, something to uncover basic meaning , such as the poem strips the of self until it is naked and unrecognizable.Death is another way that Whitman feels connected with nature and with others. Whitman regards death not as finite but as an extension of life. Because death is inevitable, it becomes a part of self that is fundamental. Whitman is interested in death in the way that it physically links him to his surroundings. He is not frightened of death. He challenges it, writing “And as to you death, and you the bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try and alarm me” (1289). He regards death as something that is necessary to produce life, speaking of the corpse as “good manure”(1294). He continues when he writes “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, / If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles” (1340). Therefore the idea of self is not necessarily connected to living.Song of Myself never answers the questions that it raises. Part of its arrangement is that it makes an assertion and then contradicts it, asking if the assertion really is valid. In the end of the poem Whitman reveals his goals. He wants to make readers come up with their own answers and their own definitions of self. However, in order for them to do that, Whitman must first make the idea of self such an unfamiliar concept that no remnants of prior prejudice remain. He addresses this goal specifically when he writes “It is time to explain myself let us stand up. / What is known I strip away,” (1134-35). It is not an accident that this statement, like his admission that he tends to contradict himself, comes late in the poem. By contradicting himself continuously, making a variety of statements, and exploring many aspects of the self, Whitman accomplishes this goal of turning the self into something foreign, something that demands interpretation and serious thought. After reading Song of Myself the idea of self is so foreign that it must be recreated. This is the basic goal of making something unfamiliar.

An Explication of Walt Whitman’s “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun”

In his January 6, 1865 letter to fellow writer and self-confessed radical William O’Connor, Walt Whitman states in no uncertain terms that his poetry collection Drum Taps “delivers my ambition. . . to express. . . the pending action of this time and land we swim in, with all (its) despair. . . the unprecedented anguish of {the} suffering, the beautiful young men, in wholesale death and agony.” But in contrast to this view, Whitman also declares Drum Taps to be a collection which reverberates with “the blast of the trumpet and the undertones of. . . comradeship and human love, (with) the clear notes of faith and triumph” (Bradley 765).In his poem “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun,” first published in Drum Taps in May of 1865, Whitman describes his emotional attachment to the Civil War through his own experiences in New York City where the war efforts of the North were being examined and discussed by virtually every citizen. In his landmark work American Renaissance, F.O. Matthiessen notes that Whitman’s “deepened perception of the meaning of suffering” brought on by his “resolution to become a volunteer nurse during the Civil War” resulted in the creation of Drum Taps (537). While living in Manhattan, Whitman heard “the sound of the trumpets and drums” (line 30), “the rustle and clang of muskets” (line 39) and witnessed “the soldiers in companies or regiments” (line 31) and “the dense brigade. . . with high piled military wagons” (lines 34-35), all examples of the on-going struggle between the Union and the Confederacy over state’s rights and slavery.This poem, however, is not totally concerned with the war, as in Whitman’s anthem “Beat! Beat! Drums!” in which he explores his dedication to the military principles of the North. In “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun,” Whitman offers two conflicting points of view, the first being a calm, peaceful co-existence with nature which can only be achieved via a complete indifference to the war, and secondly, a turbulent, war-mongering attitude replete with flag-waving, cheering crowds, marching soldiers and shows of military pomp and circumstance in the streets of Manhattan.Whitman’s use of declamation or rhetorical speech, as in “Song of Myself,” is also highly represented in “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun,” for he interprets and defends his ideals of nature with commands like “Give me a field” (line 3), “Give me an arbor” (line 4), “Give me fresh corn” (line 5) and “Give me nights perfectly quiet” (line 6). In contrast, he demonstrates his ambivalence with lines like “Keep your woods O Nature” (20), “Keep your fields of clover” (22) and “Keep the blossoming buckwheat fields” (24), all in relation to his yearning to join the celebrations in the streets of Manhattan due to his love for city life.In the first stanza of “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun,” Whitman presents a portrait of nature separate from “the noise of the world” (line 12), a metaphor indicative of the urban dissonance of the city, a product of the Industrial Revolution. The “splendid silent sun” symbolizes the source of all life on earth, with “splendid” denoting the changes in the seasons which bring forth ripe fruits, fields of wheat, arbors and fresh vegetables, while “silent” points to the sun’s indifference to the societies of man. Whitman’s primal connection with nature is shown in such phrases as “Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers” (line 8), “Give me a perfect child” (line 12) and “Give me solitude, give me Nature” (line 11).Whitman’s poetic vision in “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun” also revolves around music which appropriately must be conveyed in all poetry in order to maintain a sense of balance, tone and rhythmic structure. “Give me to warble spontaneous songs recluse by myself, for my ears only” (lines 8-9) shows that Whitman is a musical being dependent on the music of nature and existence. His “spontaneous songs,” a reflection of his need to improvise, demonstrates his personal harmony with nature via a chord tuned to his spiritual self, a contrapuntal fugue in tune with nature’s “primal sanities!” (line 12).At the conclusion of this stanza, Whitman reverses himself with “still I adhere to my city/Day upon day and year upon year” (lines 16-17) which reinforces his love for the city in contrast to his longing for nature. The “splendid silent sun” is then replaced with images of the city in the second stanza–“Give me faces and streets” (line 27), “Give me women–give me comrades and lovers by the thousand!” (line 28) and “Give me Broadway” (line 29). This serves as a second means for Whitman to describe his delight with music through the vocalizations of the people in the streets and the shows on Broadway with their bawdy renditions of dancing and singing–the heartbeat of Manhattan that Whitman so adores.Towards the conclusion of the second stanza, the music continues with the rhythms of “soldiers marching” (line 29), the blaring of trumpets and the banging of drums which shows Whitman’s adoration for military processions. This musical extravaganza terminates with “People. . . with strong voices” (line 36), “Manhattan streets with their powerful throbs” (line 37) and “The endless and noisy chorus. . . the turbulent musical chorus” (line 39) of the boisterous crowds of New York City, shouting and singing the joys of their forthcoming victory over the Confederacy.The final line of “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun” presents Whitman’s ultimate decision–he wishes to be given “Manhattan faces and eyes forever.” Despite his love for nature and the peacefulness that it represents, Whitman’s mood remains unalterable, due to the fever pitch created by the Civil War in the boroughs and neighborhoods of New York City, for he has accepted, without reserve, the chaotic, turbulent society inherent in the city.BibliographyBradley, Scully & Harold W. Blodgett, Eds. “Whitman on His Art: Comments, 1855-1892.” Leaves of Grass. NY: W.W. Norton, 1973.Matthiessen, F.O. American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman. NY: Oxford UP, 1979.

The Resposibilities of Creation

The idea of voluntary creation, of giving birth to something utterly original from some established foundation, instantly attracts unanswerable inquiries of morality and the nature of novelty and life. However, when invention is attempted on a massive scale, and entire social structures and ideologies are threatened by the newborn, the issue of responsibility takes precedence. In Mary W. Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus and Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”, Whitman and Frankenstein create anomalies, ‘monsters’ of overwhelming magnitude (a brutishly realistic American identity, and a physical daemon, respectively), and face the consequences of the ensuing relationships. Eventually, from differing perspectives on similar God-like positions, these ‘mad scientists’ veer in opposite directions from their paternal obligations, one merging with his adored creation, the other reacting violently in revulsion and seething hate.Both ‘children’ occur as experiments. Frankenstein, unlike morally-inclined Clerval, obsessively studies the most ambitious sciences, “the secrets of heaven and earth…the mysterious soul of man…” (Shelley, Ch 2) His aim, ironically, is to test the most fundamental (and formless) of powers with the dispassionate, methodical precision of his cold technological ‘art’. His personal distance from the sinister ethical ramifications of his research is surprising. He does not “ever remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition …Now I was led to…analyzing all the minutia of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life…” (Shelley, Ch 4) Fixating on his quest, he disregards the human sentiment and social norms necessary to conceive an emotionally aware child. He creates life simply because he can, never weighing the repercussions.Whitman, however, experiments as a poet. His science is that of the present, emotive human experience, and his malleable tools are blazing compassion and tolerance. His entire study is based on an intense survey of emotion, knowing that “a kelson of the creation is love” (Whitman, Part 5). The antithesis to Frankenstein, Whitman is fully aware of what social purpose his model should accomplish. Once finished, he will “…play not marches for accepted victors only, [he will] play marches for conquer’d and slain persons” (Whitman, Part 18). Thus, although the birth of both sublimely new beings shakes the foundations of the current social order by exposing cracks in its solidity, only Whitman’s child, born out of an understanding of the very society it will exist in, will be prepared to assimilate smoothly into the chaos it caused. Eventually, the creators’ differing attitudes about their experiments will strongly affect the welfare of the resulting relationships.Despite varying degrees of emotional investment, both Whitman and Frankenstein eagerly step into God-like positions. Shelley connects Frankenstein’s tale to some kind of deified plight with the subtitle “the Modern Prometheus”. The god’s insolence in bringing fire is a fusion of munificent intentions and condescension towards the divine. Frankenstein characterizes the same blend; in fact, his egomania is more evident in his self-sycophantic praises: “…Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world” (Shelley, Ch 4). He sees himself as a reserved authority, deigning to improve humanity by making superior beings in its image. Ironically, the ruined result eventually explains that the creation of power is not an appropriate end in itself. However, infatuated with the concept of playing God fashioning his Adam, Frankenstein ignores complications and muses, savoring the gratitude of entire populations, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Shelley, Ch 4). By promoting himself to such exalted, saintly levels, he is blinded by fantasies of superior intelligence and magnanimous (though patronizing) ability, forgetting that fire, however warm and luminous, often scorches and ravages. Like the Greek god, Frankenstein ultimately finds punishment through his ‘gift to man’: his monster. One might speculate that his self-absorption caused, in part, the creature’s overwhelming hideousness. Regardless, some unseen justice apparently rewarded his selfish intentions with misery for him and his loved ones.Whitman’s self-aggrandizement unfolds quite differently. He, like Frankenstein, takes himself to be omniscient and ever-present, professing with sacred imagery and even Biblical rhythmic phrasing, “the pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me… / …each part and tag of me is a miracle. / Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from” (Whitman, Parts 21, 24). However, although he constructs a mythological, prophetic image as “Walt Whitman, a kosmos….” (Whitman, Part 24), he is constantly aware of his claim of unity and similarity with his subject. He achieves his godly status through the people, who will not tolerate a “voice” that degrades them with pomposity, and thus, he is extremely sensitive to his role as not merely ‘the poet’, but “the poet of the woman the same as the man…/through me many long dumb voices” (Whitman, Parts 21, 24). Whitman as deity holds a collision of the souls of all humankind in his soul, and is ubiquitously present and servile. This divinity gives impossible birth from his own male flesh, producing a child inexorably connected to him in an indestructible bond of blood.Once the creations come into existence, however, both holy aspirations are compromised, to the detriment of one and the joy of the other. Whitman fully engages in his conception of the nation, ironically enamored with the same grotesque sublimity that repels Frankenstein. To him, beautiful America is constructed from a multitude of brutal, raw forces, as opposed to the monster’s revolting entirety, overpowering the sum of several perfect parts. He desires to become America’s objective, yet involved voice, to be “both in and out of the game” (Whitman, Part 4).To achieve this, he enters into a paradoxical existence: a dedicated father, he shares each experience, yet is concurrently removed, hovering disconnected over America’s daily activities like an eager scientist, a responsible parent. This precarious balance between character and narrator, a result of the communal quality of his godliness, allows Whitman to nurture his creation successfully by intermingling with it, although he “…[has] no mockings or arguments, [and he will] witness and wait” (Whitman, Part 4). He is a god that walks among his people, the 29th invisible bather, and yet he identifies himself as one of their number, claiming “…every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…/[I am] no sentimentalist, no stander above men and women…”. (Whitman, Part 24) He supports this assertion with language, refusing the high-brow elegance of traditional European writing, and instead employing the folk diction of his subjects, stating, “I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable/ I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”(Whitman, Part 52) In this way, he upholds his parental duties through equilibrium, carefully reining in his child’s potential unruliness, while still encouraging its exuberance. In contrast to his fellow creator, who falls into a furious, vengeful spite, Whitman allows his creation to thrive on a healthy stability between a host of binary oppositions, allowing just enough conflict for vitality, just enough pacification for objectivity.Whitman further fulfills his duty by interacting constructively with America. He expresses fatherly sentiments towards his child, writing protectively that “whoever degrades another degrades me / and whatever is done or said returns at last to me” (Whitman, Part 24), as if detractors must deal with him. However, the undercurrent of helpless adoration runs much stronger. There is an ongoing relationship between the “I” of Whitman and the “you” of America, which powerfully underscores their intimate, infinitely continual union. The familiarity of the I/you bond gives the poem a private air, like a personal lullaby or hymn rife with confidential significance. He also expresses this tender affection in snapshots, recalling when, figuratively or literally, “the little one sleeps in its cradle/ I lift the gauze and look a long time, and silently brush away flies with my hand.” (Whitman, Part 8) Yet his love is also passionate; the words “touch” and “contact” appear constantly with descriptions of physically suggestive activities, like “a few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms” (Whitman, Part 2), which encourage everyone to feel, and thus accept Whitman’s creation.This acceptance is unfortunately something Frankenstein’s creation never experiences. The monster’s story is a wretched, tragic one, completely devoid of the enthusiasm and geniality of Whitman’s creation; he is created unnecessarily, and then abandoned because he was (helplessly) ugly. Unlike Whitman, who chose to interlace his name with his child, Frankenstein gave his no name at all. Without any guidance, intellectual or otherwise, the daemon cultivates his mind single-handedly, reaching out naively for human camaraderie, only to be rejected with unwarranted loathing. Rebuffed, he “declared everlasting war against the species” and then commits his string of murders, only to then be cursed with staggering regret. He reflects “once I falsely hoped to meet with beings, who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities . . . but now crime has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine . . .. [T]he fallen angel becomes a malignant devil.” (Shelley, Ch 24) The source of the child’s despair can be traced to his creator’s selfish prejudice. When a god’s angel, created from nothing, is found to be flawed, its very existence becomes a rebellion against the deity’s seamless image. He is metaphorically flung from the peace and perfection of Heaven, sinking even lower than Satan, exclaiming, “Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred!” (Shelley, Ch 15). All obligations were ignored; unable to nurture such a gross being after being raised in a beautiful environment with beautiful people and beautiful minds, Frankenstein flees his natural duties. Once the “dull yellow eye of the creature” (Shelley, Ch 5) opens and it shudders to life, Frankenstein shudders in horror, immediately reacting to it as a “catastrophe”, a “daemon”, “devil” or “wretch”. Unprepared for a complex being with blemishes as well as blessings, Frankenstein recoils from the ogre and seeks to abort it, launching a chain in which his negligence leads to greater pain with the deaths of his family. Yet, he is not ignorant of proper parental etiquette, for he recalls, “I was…the innocent and helpless creature bestowed on [my parents] by Heaven, whom to bring up good, and whose future lot it was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery, according as they fulfilled their duties towards me” (Shelley, Ch 1). Thus, his hypocritical nature is highlighted when he shirks these acknowledged duties.Even more disturbing is Frankenstein’s irresponsibility and remorselessness towards his wayward son. He bucks his parental contract by seeking retribution, not appreciating that the monster’s ‘God-given’ intrinsic, inflexible constitution naturally suggested crime. In his quest to “avenge” himself of what is actually his own burden, his own moral failure, Frankenstein not only denies culpability, but whines perpetually in self-pity about being an extraordinarily “miserable, desperate wretch”, oblivious that his chronic introspection has caused his child and his family endless distress. This unceasing state of corrupt egocentricity is blatantly apparent; to preserve his freedom, he never mentions William’s true killer, and watches Justine hang. Even when faced by the monster (who then seems better morally educated), and directly cautioned about the hazards of manipulating science without responsibility and sensitivity, Frankenstein, ever arrogant and ignorant, still rebukes his now-rational creation, “”Abhorred monster! Fiend that thou art!….There can be no community between you and me; we are enemies” (Shelley, Ch 10). In essence, his duplicity and self-interest made him an unfit God; his habitual neglect led his deserted, victimized child to destroy him in a power reversal, where “you [Frankenstein] are my creator, but I am your master” (Shelley, Ch 20).Essentially, the success of creation is entirely dependent on the attitude of the creator, and not on environmental factors or the creation’s own strength. In the comparison between Whitman’s balanced symbiosis and the mutual destructiveness of Frankenstein and his monster, it is evident that the production of such new and momentous abnormalities requires substantial personal investment beyond the calculating figures of science.

The Metaphor of Light in Whitman’s Civil War Poems

“O divine power, but lend yourself to meSo that I may show the shadow of that blessedKingdom which is embedded in my brain”The above passage is excerpted from Canto I of Longfellow’s translation of Dante Alighieri’s Paradiso (22-24). In this third section of The Divine Comedy, Dante uses light as a metaphor for goodness; as objects move closer to God, they reflect more light. However, light serves another purpose in the work, as well. The divine light in Paradiso is so bright that at first, the speaker cannot even bear to look at it in its entirety. His experience of visiting Paradiso is so intense that he is continually conscious about using language to recount it accurately. In the quotation, the speaker can only hope to convey “a shadow” of the great light to which he is exposed.As a poet, Whitman, too, is conscious about his ability to accurately depict what he observed in visiting Union hospitals during the Civil War. In the introduction to his Memoranda, written between 1862 and 1865, he writes:Of the present Volume most of its pages are verbatim renderings from such pencillings on the spot. Some were scratch’d down from narratives I heard and itemized while watching, or waiting, or tending somebody amid those scenes. I have perhaps forty such little note-books left, forming a special history of those years, for myself alone, full of associations never to be possibly said or sung. I wish I could convey to the reader the associations that attach to these soil’d and creas’d little livraisons, each composed of a sheet or two of paper, folded small to carry in the pocket, and fasten’d with a pin. (1)a sight beyond all the pictures and poems ever made,Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and lamps,And by one great pitchy torch stationary with the wild red flame and clouds of smokeThe dark and dimly-lit atmosphere underscores the very idea that what the speaker sees is “beyond all the pictures and poems ever made.” Whitman’s own experience of seeing the heaps of wounded soldiers is so intense that he cannot describe it clearly for the reader, nor can it be captured entirely in a photograph, for that matter. Hence, it is “beyond all the pictures and poems ever made.” That is why the images in the poem are vague and difficult to see. In essence, the words themselves are mere shadows of the true forms from which they are inspired. Whitman mentions his own doubts about portraying the experience through the voice of the nurse by saying, “I stanch the blood temporarily.” In this instance, Whitman represents himself as being ineffective as a nurse in order to express his concern about being ineffective as a poet. The stanching of the blood is an ephemeral act, just as Whitman believes his poem to be ephemeral and incapable of describing the experience. He reinforces the notion that he cannot effectively recount the experience by using vague and nondescript language, as in the line: “faces, varieties, postures beyond description”Continuing the sense of duality in “Look Down Fair Moon” and “Dirge for Two Veterans,” Whitman incorporates the commemoration of the soldiers along with the exposure of the unholy. “A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest” takes place in “a large old church at the crossing roads, now an impromptu hospital.” The fact that the soldiers are in a church suggests that they are somehow sacred and praiseworthy. However, there is a bitter irony in their location, much like the way the dead soldiers are depicted as Christ-like figures in “Look Down Fair Moon” and the way in which the father and son are put to rest on the Sabbath in “Dirge for Two Veterans.” The fact that the soldiers who are wounded from battle are inside a place of worship suggests that there is something sacrilegious about the entire scene. The scarcity of light in the poem returns to the idea of Dante’s Paradiso, in which the amount of light reflected in an object is proportional to its goodness. Whitman concludes the poem with an image of darkness, with the army “ever in darkness marching.” The image of the marching army is significant because at the time of the Civil War, technology was not yet efficient enough to photograph a moving army. Furthermore, the army would have been impossible to photograph since it is in darkness, without a light source such as the moon in the other poems. Thus, in addition to the scarcity of light, as in the “dim-lighted building” and the “shadows of deepest, deepest black,” the problem of capturing movement in a photograph, such as the marching on in darkness, serves to convey Whitman’s perceived shortcomings about the poem’s ability to portray reality. At the same time, the literal distance of the soldiers from light serves to convey the blasphemy of the situation.In 1839, following the death of Joseph Niepce, the producer of the first successful photograph, Louis Daguerre invented the Daguerreotype, which produced images on photographic plates. At the time, some were skeptical of the process of photography and what it sought to achieve. For example, a German newspaper report stated:The wish to capture evanescent reflections is not only impossible… but the mere desire alone, the will to do so, is blasphemy. God created man in His own image, and no man-made machine may fix the image of God. Is it possible that God should have abandoned His eternal principles, and allowed a Frenchman… to give to the world an invention of the Devil? ( writing poems about what he witnessed in hospitals during the Civil War, Whitman sought to counter opinions like the one stated in the article above. By publishing his journals and numerous poems describing the nature of the war in great detail, he strove to accomplish what photographers of the time were striving to do capture the essence of a true image in a still frame. Just like the photographers of his time, however, Whitman was aware of the physical difficulty of attempting this. This is why so many of the poems express concerns similar to those of the speaker in Paradiso about a failure to relate the experience. Combining the function of light in photography with the metaphorical purpose of light in Dante’s Divine Comedy, Whitman succeeds in illuminating the essence of the Civil War its glory as well as its horror while conveying his concern about being able to reproduce it accurately.

A Symbiotic Relationship

Propelling subjects into action, inciting inanimate objects into movement; verbs meet and surpass these functions. Without verbs a sentence would fail to be such, a clause would fall in rank down to a phrase or a simple phrase. There are three, generalized categories of verbs that pertain to “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman: action verbs, linking verbs, and helping verbs. Action verbs push the subject of the clause or sentence into motion, linking verbs establish a state of being, and helping verbs add onto both action and linking verbs to increase the detail of those verbs. A shift within the poem separates the text and corresponding verbs into halves; the shift falls at the beginning of the fifth ling after four succeeding clauses, where “when” starts each. The first half includes simple action verbs and a few helping verbs in addition to some verbs, the second half only contains linking and actions verbs, no helping verbs. Through the contrasting structure and content between the two halves, the verbs reveal that with science and math humans are able to create a relationship with nature so they can understand certain aspects of the mysteries behind it and not remain ignorant of the known workings of the world.

This split in the poem creates two distinct parts where the main verb implies one of the five senses and the subtleties within the text infer another. The first half explicitly states that the speaker “heard the learn’d astronomer” (1); the remainder of the half revolves around the events of the astronomer’s lecture. Amiss the lecture the speaker “was shown the charts and diagrams” (3) along with other mathematical and scientific tools. The images of “the proofs, the figures” (2) are ambiguous, vague. These tools are visual representation of mathematical ideas, but the speaker does not provide direct descriptions of what concepts the diagrams denote. The second half, in a similar yet opposite construction, has a focus on the sight of certain visuals and the emergence of sound. There is a direct statement that the speaker “look’d…at the stars” (8); although there is no specific details that provide to the imagery, the concept of a star has a concrete sight. Within the words of the second half, figurative elements illuminate sound. Assonance comes with the speaker’s movements as he/she is “rising and gliding out” (6), initial alliteration describes the “mystical, moist night-air” (7).

These sound devices add the effect of sound, yet no actual sound emits from the outside environment. In “perfect silence” (8) that speaker glances at the stars; throughout the speaker’s wanderings, no physical sound arises from his/her person. The second half clearly states that there is an absence of sound; the first half has no mention of the speaker’s contribution to the sound in the lecture. Here another inference emerges; for the speaker to hear the words from the lecture, he must remain silent. The clues for the speaker’s alleged silence appear within the verbs of the poem. The other verbs like “were ranged” (2) and “was shown” (3) are passive constructions of the verbs; those actions aren’t performed by the speaker, they’re done by the astronomer. The astronomer arranges “the proofs, the figures” (2), he displays “the charts and the diagrams” (3). As for the other verbs, the speaker “heard the…astronomer” (1), the speaker listens to the lecture. He/she doesn’t admit to interrupting the astronomer or “zoning out” during the lecture. Each half mirrors the other; the first expresses no utterance of sound while the second deliberately includes the word “silence”.

The contrasts within the halves aren’t limited to just the narrow view of the words and their effect, they appear in the setting of each half. At the beginning the speaker sits inside a lecture-room learning from an astronomer; after “much applause in the lecture-room” (4), the speaker “wander’d out” (6). The career description of an astronomer, found on an online dictionary, is a person who studies celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole. The astronomer lectures on some topic of his career description, some phenomenon in the natural world. Talks of stars and other celestial objects occupy a man-made structure, charts and figures rest on humanity’s creations. For the astronomer to teach the complex observations behind nature he needs these synthetic technologies to watch and analyze space. As for the second half, the reversal is true; the astronomer needs science and math, human establishments, in order to analyze appearances in nature.

This symbiotic relationship reflects the parallels and contrasts within the poem as a whole. All the elements of the poem work together at different levels to balance out the various aspects of each part. The first half of the poem has lengthy lines that list off different types of subtle images; there are few explicit places where words plainly state a sound. In opposition, the second half has precise imagery and concise lines; there are multiple types of slight sound elements within the words. The reversal of the amount of sights and sounds reveals the complexity behind everything in the poem, how one half needs the other to prevent one sense from overpowering another. Alone the first half is a lopsided construction where the inexplicit overpowers the direct.

That very same principle applies to man and nature; if one dominates the other then they both lose the rewards of forming a relationship. If man only consumes the environment, they demolish that chance to embrace the information derived from nature; they ruin the opportunity to uncover certain mysteries within the natural world. Astronomy relies on the preservation of the universe. Without space the astronomer can’t unlock the mysteries of the stars and other celestial objects.

When the speaker “heard the…astronomer” (1), that link is clearly defined. Since the speaker listened to the lecture from an educated astronomer and learned about some of the universal discoveries. The astronomer, with his lecture, grants the speaker some insight into space; the speaker needed that lecture to understand the multiple layers behind the stars. Without that lecture, the stars would remain just stars. Those secrets of the universe would remain unknown; mysteries would stay hidden if people never to uncover and learn.

Equality in “The Wound-Dresser” and “Song of Myself”

Equality in “The Wound-Dresser” and “Song of Myself”

The theme of equality permeates both “The Wound-Dresser” and “Song of Myself”. Whitman remarks upon judgments that others make and refutes them with his own ideas of impartiality. These manifest particularly strongly in Whitman’s attitude towards the bravery of soldiers in “The Wound-Dresser” and section 18 of “Song of Myself”. The narrators of both poems point out the valor of the men who fought for either army. The ways in which Whitman arrives at this depiction of equality, however, differ by poem. Through the vehicles of imagery and repetition, Whitman creates a certain tone for each work, which ultimately enables him to effectively demonstrate the equality of soldiers on both sides of the Civil War.

In section 18 of “Song of Myself”, Whitman does not recognize the traditional values of winning and losing. He plays “music strong” for the soldiers on both sides of the war, stating, “I play not marches for accepted victors only, I play marches for conquer’d and slain persons” (“Song” 362-363). He takes the inevitable byproduct of war, winners and losers, and demonstrates the worth of all men who fight. Whitman first emphasizes the schism, the “accepted victors” and “slain persons”, that has been created through battle and points out the similarity between both armies. In order to reach this equality, Whitman emphasizes those who have “fail’d” and raises them in significance. By playing his song for all men, he esteems even those who have been conquered. He renders them valuable, commenting that, “battles are lost in the same spirit in which they/are won” (“Song” 363-364). In order for Whitman to elevate the unsuccessful men, he must inherently emphasize their defeat. The reader understands the distinction between the sides of the war and gains empathy for the losers through the narrator’s assertion of their worth.

Whitman also discusses the two sides of the war in “The Wound-Dresser” and, as in “Song of Myself”, demonstrates his belief that soldiers on both fronts should be honored for their courage. He calls them “unsurpass’d heroes” (“Dresser” 7) and rhetorically asks, “was one side so brave? The other was equally brave” (“Dresser” 7). He labels these forces, “the mightiest armies on earth” (“Dresser” 9). Notably, it is not “army” but “armies”. This simple act of pluralizing demonstrates the equality of contest between the two. The war does not take place between one weak force and one strong; the two are both mighty. Through this introductory paragraph, Whitman sets the sense of parity depicted in the rest of the poem.

Whereas in section 18, Whitman underscores the different sides of the war to ultimately bring them together, in “The Wound Dresser”, he gives anonymity to the soldiers in the hospital. He fails to mention whether he works in hospitals for one particular side, or whether he travels around caring for anyone who needs him. He refers to his patients only as “my wounded” (“Dresser” 26) or “the soldier”. Whitman asserts equality amongst the armies, unifying all of the soldiers in their experience of suffering. His utter lack of detail regarding even the color of their uniforms (which would give away the army that they fight for) renders the hospitals one non-descript blur. The only details given pertain to the gore of battle injuries.

In “The Wound-Dresser,” Whitman creates a dream-like state of recollection. He represents the victims as an anonymous mass of sufferers and fails to label his patients according to the sides for which they fought. On the other hand, section 18 very clearly delineates sides and then attempts to raise the defeated men to the same level of esteem as the victors. Whitman demonstrates equality in very different manners in these texts, and this manifests particularly clearly through his use of auditory senses. In “Song of Myself,” the narrator’s strong claims mirror in his manner of playing music loudly and confidently. On the other hand, the total lack of sound in “The Wound-Dresser” contributes to the dream-like quality of narration, which in turn makes the men equal through a dearth of description and difference, rather than an emphasis of it.

Section 18 deals almost exclusively with the auditory. The narrator discusses music throughout. A musical element pervades the section, with strong diction such as “beat”, “pound”, and “blow” (“Song” 365-366) associated with the narrator’s actions. Additionally, he employs the superlatives of “loudest” and “gayest” to describe his manner of playing. These words that emphasize create strong images, and jump out at the reader highlight the strength of the narrator’s conviction regarding the men for whom he plays. He wants the reader to follow along with the music, to recognize the worth of every fallen man, not simply those who were part of the winning side.

Sound plays a key role in “The Wound Dresser,” too. The utter lack of sound creates a tone that complements the lack of description about the victims. No man singles himself out by crying aloud or making conversation. The narrator aids one man after the next, tending to an endless parade of mangled bodies. This contrasts strongly with the emphasis on music seen in section 18 of “Song of Myself”. The entire account of his time in the hospitals is devoid of any sort of sound. This muted quality resonates because hospitals, particularly war hospitals, would be full of men yelling, men crying out. Therefore, the presentation of the narrator’s experience as a silent one lends itself to this dream-like quality. The editing out of sound is done by the narrator and is a conscious effort on his part. He entreats the reader to “follow without noise” (“Dresser” 24). This soundlessness enhances the impersonal feeling of the hospital. Because no individual cries out, the tenants of each bed become one faceless mass of people. In this manner, the opposing sides of the war are erased. All that remains are the men who used to fight for ideals and who now fight for their lives. The narrator says, “I pacify with soothing hand” (“Dresser” 61) which means to comfort them, but also fits with the silence that characterizes this account.

The tone of each poem further stems from Whitman’s extensive use of repetition. In section 18 of “Song of Myself”, repetition enhances the adulation of the narrator and the musical air of his expression. The last two stanzas have the tone of a salute. Beginning with “Vivas to those who have fail’d” (“Song” 367) and followed by four lines that begin “And to…” evinces an image of Whitman toasting these unsung soldiers. In particular, the repeated “And to” are reminiscent of a coda. They give the poem a certain rhythm that otherwise, because it is free verse, is missing. Furthermore, he uses repetition to highlight the term “heroes” that appears three times in the last two lines. In these instances he lauds the defeated soldiers to set them on the same plane of respect as the victorious ones.

Repetition in “The Wound-Dresser” highlights the relentless torrent of faceless patients. Whitman repeats the phrase “I onward go” (“Dresser” 34), or some variation, several times during the poem. The reader feels the narrator’s weariness as he aids the men, each man as injured as the next. Whether a shoulder wound or an amputated hand, these men endure horrific injuries. Juxtaposed with the “putrid gangrene” the reader expects accounts of cries and yelling. Instead, the narrator recounts his story, “in silence in dreams’ projections,” which is repeated twice. Here Whitman emphasizes yet again the universal suffering, the surreal experience that he witnessed.

Through these two poems, Whitman recognizes the valor of all who fought, and those who serve in other capacities, like the narrators of the poems. It is significant that he gives very little time to the traditionally exciting battle narratives. In section 18 the narrator focuses on the brave men and about the music that he plays for them. In “The Wound-Dresser” the narrator gives a short stanza to the description of battle before shifting his focus to hospitals to the rest of the poem. Whitman applauds the sacrifice of all of the men, and in section 18 he plays music for “the dead” (“Song” 365). Because much of the poem deals with the division of sides, this unifying state of death stands out. Whitman draws the reader’s attention to this common state of being, pointing out that death is common to all. Nearly the entirety of “The Wound-Dresser” focuses on the suffering, and perhaps this is why the tone of this poem gives so little importance to the sides of the war. In these works, Whitman focuses on the suffering of men, and when reading through the lens of equality, the conclusion emerges that suffering and death are the ultimate equalizer.

Whitman and Manhattan

The birthplace of Walt Whitman, New York is where the poet spent much of his life and became the inspiration for much of Whitman’s poetry. Living in an era where mass industrialization and modernization began to change and shape the New York, Whitman wrote “Mannahatta” as an acknowledgement and acceptance of this shift to an urban society. By first drawing attention to the aboriginal name, Whitman references the pure, natural origins of the city and how the formation of Manhattan is from the soil makes it seem alive. After that, Whitman looks at the cityscape, the detached yet beautiful aesthetic of the city, but does not condemn it for taking over the environment around it, because the city and the earth has formed together into one system. Finally, Whitman hones in on the lives of the people in the city, treasuring each of their lives and appreciating each of them as human beings that add to the individuality and liveliness of Manhattan. “Mannahatta” is Walt Whitman’s homage to New York City; it is a celebration of the union of the urbanized metropolis and the organic natural world as well as a recognition of the humanity that brings life to his beloved city.

Whitman’s search for a name that describes New York and his love for his city leads him to the original name, Mannahatta, and subsequently brings attention to the organic and fundamental parts of the city; he shows that the city is natural and alive, from its creation to its current development. Referencing the original name for the island, Whitman writes:

I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,

Whereupon, lo! upsprang the aboriginal name!

Now I see what there is a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient;

I see that the word of my city is that word up there (1-4).

Whitman sees the original name, Mannahatta, as the “perfect” name for his city, suggesting that life in New York is as organic and free it had been hundreds of years ago. Mannahatta, meaning “land of many hills,” was the name that the Lenni Lenape Indians gave the city when they first arrived upon its shores. The fact that the name still fits the city, even though it has now become an industrial metropolis, shows that at its very roots, the city is still primitive. Through using the native name, Whitman references the nomadic tendencies of the native Indians, which also makes the city appear restless and yearning . In the next lines of the poem, Whitman draws attention to the name as “liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient” (3). By using words such as “liquid” and “unruly,” Whitman makes the city appear as a fluid object, one that can form and meld without breaking or snapping. He sees New York as an autonomous being, a place where things are freewheeling and subject to change, viewing the city as a living, breathing being of its own, chaotic in its own existence. By going back to its original name, Whitman seems to suggest that Manhattan is not an unnatural system and not just an industrial structure; it is as primitive and animated as it was when it was discovered.

Despite being called “aboriginal” in the first part of the poem, Whitman still draws attention to the industrial aspects of the city, showing that he accepts the urbanization of Manhattan and that the melding together of nature and technology is welcome and appreciated. First, Whitman draws attention to the skyscrapers: “Numberless crowded streets – high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies; / Tide swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown” (6-8). Whitman creates the image of the iron of the skyscrapers meeting the sky; the use of “light” and “clear skies” is preceded with the mention of “numberless crowded streets – high growths of iron,” (6). This seems to show that the city is “strong” and stable enough to triumphantly reach the sky and join together with the natural world. From its natural roots, New York has built itself up higher and higher until it reconnected with the sky, an ideal marriage of metal and the environment. However, Whitman does not only writes about the sky as meeting with city, but he also mentions the water as another joint that the city connects to. For example, Whitman writes:

The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, the

Ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model’d,

The downtown streets, the jobbers’ houses of business, the houses

Of business of the ship-merchants and money-brokers, the

River-streets (10-11).

Whitman uses enjambment to allow the poem to flow fluidly, as if the words were tumbling into one another. In fact, save for the first two lines and last two lines, there are no full endstops in the entire poem. Even lines where there seems to be an end are marked by a comma or a dash, making the poem seem like one long thought, streaming and unceasing. This structure reinforces the image of the city meeting and becoming the river, cascading from one point to another. Through imagery and poetic devices, Whitman describes the union of the city with the sea and the sky to show his appreciation for this combination of modernity and the Earth that New York has become.

However, what Whitman seems to love most about Manhattan is the variety of people that live there; he seems to want to seek out the lives of each and every one of these people, imagining the possibilities within them.  Whitman highlights the importance of humanity in the poem by using repetition in the majority of the poem, following a list-like form: “The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses, the brown-faced sailors, / The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing clouds aloft” (14-15). This repetitive form brings attention to the homogeneity of these objects, from the consistency of the sun and clouds, to the mechanical carts, to the uniformity of the groups of sailors and drivers. The repetition ends at the line that reads, “The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d, beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes” (16). By breaking out of repetition, Whitman allows the reader to pay more attention to the line, just as he prepares to pay more attention to the lives of these individuals. In the case of the citizens, there are no limitations in regards to intimacy, which Whitman seems to marvel over: “A million people — manners free and superb — open voices — hospitality — the most courageous and friendly young men…The city of such women, I am mad to be with them! I will return after death to be with them! / The city of such young men, I swear I cannot live happy, without I often go talk, walk, eat, drink, sleep, with them!” (19-24). What sets the humans apart from the rest of the city is the difference in their structure — the city is made of concrete and steel, and no matter how hard one tries to understand it, the pure industrial character of it prevents anyone from getting too close to it. However, the people are generous and hospital, “courageous and friendly,” giving off a warmth that the cool mechanics of the city cannot have. Despite the beauty of the city, Whitman seems to suggest that without the men and women in the city, he cannot live happily in it, showing that even in the most brilliant and promising of cities, it is humanity and life that defines its worth, and so the mingling crowds of people in Manhattan is what brings worth to the city.

“Mannahatta” is Whitman’s ode to a city he loved and lived in. He takes the reader through the lives and experiences of those who live in New York, as if putting them in his shoes as he takes a stroll through the city. Living in a time when the city around him was changing, Whitman seems to embrace the modernity and industrialization of Manhattan, but does so tentatively. Although he starts with the very roots of the city and the organic origins that it was built upon, Whitman suggests that the industrial development of New York does not disrupt this naturalness, but in fact, adds to it. As the poem progresses, Whitman seems to focus in on the lives of the inhabitants of New York. He describes them just as he describes his beloved city: natural and endless. Whitman seems to suggest that without the lives and the humanity that people bring to a place, he cannot truly love this city, and in fact, his love for Manhattan is, fundamentally, a love for the people and the possibilities that lie in their existences.

Whitman’s Elegy for Lincoln

Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” is an elegiac poem in memory of Abraham Lincoln. The poem tracks the narrator waiting to lay a sprig of lilac on the president’s coffin, the physical journey that Lincoln’s coffin takes across the country, and, finally, a lone bird mourning far away from civilization. Specifically, the opening stanzas of the poem that follow the narrator and the stanzas concerning the thrush bird characterize the poem as an elegy through their use of classical elegiac conventions, such as references to nature, song, the apotheosis of the dead, and the transference of the narrator’s mourning to the entire world. Throughout the poem, Whitman uses the traditional imagery and symbolism typically employed in an elegy poem. One component of elegiac imagery relies on an emphasis on nature or the pastoral, which is evident from the first line of the poem: When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d, / And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, / I mourn’d — and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.Whitman uses the image of colorful lilacs and spring, the season of new life, to juxtapose the premature death of Lincoln as well as to convey the speaker’s deep sadness to follow on each anniversary of the death. This reference to “ever-returning spring” also adds a somber tone by implying that although the human world may be in mourning, the natural world is disjointed from humanity and will always return to new life in spring regardless of the “the great star [that] early droop’d.”The astrological symbolism or apotheosis of the dead is another common trait in elegy; Whitman uses both in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Throughout the poem, Whitman refers to Lincoln as a star several times: O powerful, western, fallen star! / O shades of night! O moody, tearful night! / O great star disappear’d! O the black murk that hides the star!The use of the star to stand in for Lincoln is Whitman’s way of raising the fallen president up to the heavens, in an almost godlike manner. The imagery used to describe the fallen star consumed by darkness brings to mind an eclipse or the final moments of day when the sun finally sets; this imagery in connection with Lincoln is a sign of the speaker’s belief that Lincoln’s death was untimely and occurred too soon. The speaker’s choice of words also indicates that Lincoln was a sort of guiding star or light for America, and now that he is gone, the nation is plunged into temporary darkness at the end of the Civil War.Whitman uses the thrush bird to symbolize nature’s mourning and as a comparison to the propriety of the narrator’s own mourning. He says of the bird, “Song of the bleeding throat! / Death’s outlet song of life — (for well, dear brother, I know / If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would’st surely die.)” The bird mourns in a solitary swamp because he would die without the gift of song, not in the midst of civilization spurred by the death of Lincoln. The narrator recognizes and understands the thrush’s song, but he is not able to produce his own song for his fallen star: But a moment I linger — for the lustrous star has detain’d me; / The star, my departing comrade, holds and detains me. / O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved? / And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone? / And what shall my perfume be, for the grave of him I love?The speaker with the lilac does not feel he can mourn for the fallen president that means so much to him as properly as the lone thrush in the swamp does effortlessly with its death song. Whitman enters a meta-elegiac territory when he has the narrator recognize his inability to properly mourn and feels the death of Lincoln has “detain’d” him; in other words, he cannot get over the death of the president and cannot even begin the process of mourning. Overall, Whitman’s elegy to Lincoln stands out among his poems for its heavy use of the imagery of a classical genre, yet his questioning of elegy and of mourning itself makes “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” an innovative poem full of meaning. His use of symbolism is easily explicated, but the way Whitman uses the classical elegiac framework to challenge the genre itself adds a great deal of complexity to the grief that he felt at Lincoln’s assassination and a deeper level of meaning to be extracted from the text.

Equality within Differences in Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is a poem that not only exposes the differences within the people and the geography of the nation, but also shows the theme of equality that unites these differences. Incorporating his experience with the Civil War as well as the industrial revolution of the United States, Whitman threads together the past and the future, promoting equality not only within time and distance, but in its attitude and thought. By examining the use of parallel structure and repetition, Whitman plays with the relationship between difference and equality. By focusing on the figurative language of rhetorical questioning, imagery in addition to the rhythm of action and movements, Whitman shows how equality can be established against the passing of time and the advancing nation. Ultimately, by examining the structure and the verb tenses utilized in the poem, Whitman shows how each part of the difference, whether it be people or landmarks, contributes to the perfected unity of the whole.Focusing specifically on the first two sections of Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” one can see how the poet utilizes repetition of specific phrases in order to create a sense of overwhelming inequality, but also to establish a feeling of unity and equality. By repeating “how curious you are to me” in two subsequent lines, the poet reveals the two different scenes and subjects; not only are there “crowds of men and women,” but there are also ferry-boats that “cross from shore to shore” (lines 3-5). However, even though the poet is fascinated by the differences of subjects he sees on the “flood-tide below [him],” he claims that the people and the ferry boats both create the same effect of curiosity. Similarly, when the poet is thinking of his role with respect to the world, he expresses that even in “the simple, compact, well-join’d scheme,” he finds “[himself] disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme” (line 7). Although the repeated word “disintegrated” means separation from the whole, the word creates unity in that it follows the subject of the poet himself as well as everyone else in the universe. Therefore, although he is a separate entity, he is also a part of everyone else, partaking in “part of the scheme.” The repetition of specific word choices and phrases establishes a link between the poet and everyone else in the world, thereby blurring the relationship of differences and equality and intertwining the differences into something unifying. Not only so, the parallel structure of form also plays with the relationship of the difference and the equality. In lines 13-16, the poet begins each line with the phrase “others will,” and follows it with an action verb: “enter the gates,” “watch the run,” “see the shipping.” Even after the passing of time as represented by the “fifty years hence,” and “a hundred years hence,’ the repeated phrase of “others will” shows that despite the varying groups of people and the passing generations, in the end, they will all experience the same sight of seeing the ferry cross. The poet transcends time and location by showing how “the others” are united by the same vision even with the passing of time and the rise of many generations.By examining the symbols, imageries, metaphors, and rhetorical questionings Whitman places throughout “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” one can see that Whitman’s loyalty to the democratic ideal of equality seems to go against that specific era. Because the poem is written in the period of the Second Industrial Revolution, one can see the technological and economic progress of the United States through the developments and advancements of steam-powered ships and railways. One of the most transparent images used is the ferry, which symbolizes not only the continual action of “crossing from shore to shore,” but also the invisible motion of passing time. The vivid imagery of the river “with the swift current” and the “bright flow,” then parallels the motion of the ferry, unifying nature’s response to the Industrial Revolution (lines 23-24). More importantly, Whitman shows that equality can be established against the passing of time and the advancing nation by purposely not differentiating between the natural elements and the artificially created advancements. When depicting the scenery of New York, Whitman writes in details of “the river and sunset and scallop-edg’d waves of flood tide, the sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat in the twilight, and the belated lighter,” therefore putting the ferries and the buildings on the same level as the crashing waves and the sea-gulls (line 94). On the other hand, in Lydia Maria Child’s Letters from New York, the revealing delineations of New York City as the nation’s leading urban center do not exude the same glory and majesty as revealed by Whitman. In fact, Child’s letters addresses the poverty among women and children “is the misery of a city like New-York, that a kindly spirit not only suffers continual pain, but is obliged to do itself perpetual wrong” (page 1093). Whereas Whitman claims that there is a unifying effect of nature and the industrial progression, Child claims that there is a dividing effect in which the lower class suffers due to the repression of sympathies. Similarly, the technique of rhetorical questioning is used by both Whitman and Child, but again, produces a differing effect. When speaking of “deeds of gentleness and mercy,” Child asks, “Why are such scenes so uncommon? Why do we thus repress our sympathies, and chill the genial current of nature, by formal observances and restraints” (1093-94)?” The sentiments of loss, hopelessness, and despair seem to result from these rhetorical questions as the city is depicted as one that is selfish and self-centered. However, for Whitman, as the use of rhetorical questioning, such as “What is it then between us? What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us,” becomes more frequent, there is a feeling of comfort that produces a calming effect for the readers. The poet reassures its readers that years, distance, and place, will not separate him from the generations to come, through the repetition of the phrase “I too” because equality has been established through shared experiences. Ultimately, Whitman specifically employs symbols, imageries, and rhetorical questioning, to show how equality is established against the passing of time and the advancing nation in the Second Industrial Revolution era.Lastly, by analyzing the structure and the verb tenses employed in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” one can see how Whitman intentionally generates a paradoxical case of movement and stasis to ultimately reflect the ideal of equality transcendent throughout the poem. The inception of the poem begins with the present tense as the poet declares, “I see you face to face” (line 1), but quickly shifts to the future tense of “others will” (line 13). Similarly, there is a subtle transition of verb tenses from the present tense of “I am with you,” to the past tense of “I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old” within one section (lines 21, 26). By constantly changing verb tenses throughout each of the nine segments of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” the poet blurs the past, the present, and the future, to show not the passing of time, but rather the surpassing of time. As readers, we know that with the “men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,” there will be changes and developments in the culture and the way of life. In fact, nothing ever remains constant. However, it is through this kind of timelessness that Whitman can present the overarching theme of equality within the differences. Furthermore, the structure of the poem is in sections: there are nine distinct sections that form this poem each with varying lengths. Immediately, the appearance of the poem hints at disjointedness and separation. Despite this, however, Whitman’s underlying theme is unity and equality. To achieve this, Whitman utilizes juxtapositions in order to declare that all differences can coexist. For example, the poet reveals that the people who “stand and lean on the rail” also “hurry with the swift current” (line 24). In the same way, the poet juxtaposes the theme of rest and activity as the seagulls that have “motionless wings,” are able to “oscillat[e] their bodies” (line 27). Overall, the most evident juxtaposition is represented by the image of the river; even though the river is constantly flowing, “stately and rapid,” it will always appear the same (line 50). Each of the differences is important because it contributes to the overall unity of the whole.“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is a poem that brings to its appearance differences that will never coexist. However, it is through the use of repetition, parallel structure, and figurative languages of metaphors and imageries, that enable Whitman to thread together generations of people within an era of rapid growth and change. On the whole, the mood the poem creates is one of optimism, hope, and happiness. As the Second Industrial Revolution is taking effect on the city, the poem offers a bright optimism in which the fluid crossing over of the ferry manifests the easy transition from the old to the new. By establishing the coexistence of opposing forces in his timeless world, Whitman gladly anticipates and praises change, reaffirming his ideal of equality and unity.