Manhattan In The Works Of Walt Whitman And E. B. White
To many people, New York is an exciting place to come and visit or a place to live in; from the hustle and bustle of people coming to and fro, to the many sights that it has to behold, New York is one of the biggest melting pots that this world has to offer. However, one of the most popular boroughs that people, especially tourists, like to come and visit is Manhattan. Two people in particular that loved and adored Manhattan were Walt Whitman and E.B. White. Both of these men had their own reasons why they loved Manhattan, but what remained constant are the sights and memories that can still be seen and had by people today.
For Walt Whitman, not only was Manhattan a sight to behold, but it also helped inspire him to create a poem all about it. Walt Whitman was brought into this world, and left this world before E.B. White could even take his first step in this world. With this in mind, it allows us to see that Walt Whitman had a different perspective on the every growing island of Manhattan. When looking through his poem, titled Mannahatta, we can see that from the time he spent in Manhattan, he had a lot of favorite things to see on his travels. At the end of this poem, it reads “A million people– manners free and superb,/– open voices– hospitality– the most courageous and/friendly young men, City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts!/City nested in bays! my city!” (18-20). Back in the day, Manhattan was a very different place than what it is now. Sure, many things that are said in Walt Whitman’s poem stayed the same over time, such as the millions of people and the city being full of spires. However, it also shows that Manhattan has changed a lot since he was living in it; the sparkling waters are somewhat still here, and the masts of boats are usually seen in the summer, but for the most part they are replaced with the horns and the roar of an engine coming from a ferry or a tugboat moving a barge. With all of this in mind, Walt Whitman still loved and adored Manhattan for what it was; with it being the entire city for him, it holds a special place in his heart for helping create not only this magnificent poem, but also shaping him as a person. Speaking from experience, coming and staying in Manhattan has changed me both mentally and physically; the people I had the honor to meet and build relationships with, as well as the people I have come across in my various journeys through Manhattan have made me both stronger and to be more aware of my surroundings because you never know what is around the next corner. Also I know that poetry, more often than not, comes from the heart and comes from experiences that the poet has gone through. To see him write this poem with such description makes me feel that I am standing there with him and he is building the world around me; the world that he came to know and love, and a world that he called his own. While Walt Whitman was here first between the two men, it does not mean that Manhattan means any less to E.B. White.
For E.B. White, the many memories that he has had as well as stories he heard about have etched themselves into the concrete sidewalks of Manhattan, and are their for all to see. Manhattan, at least from E.B White’s perspective, seemed very similar to the one that Walt Whitman described in his poem. However, the main difference is that E.B. went into more detail into why Manhattan stood out from all the other boroughs; all that surrounds him is the memories of people that once stood on these streets with and before him, and he can stare from his hotel room and see them all unfold before himself. “I am twenty-two blocks from where Rudolph Valentino lay instate, eight block from where Nathan Hale was executed, five blocks from the publisher’s office where Ernest Hemingway hit Max Eastman in the nose… (I could continue this list indefinitely)…” (P. 20-21). Everything is coming alive in front of E.B. White as his words are unfolding in his story; he is being a tour guide with people and events happening before our eyes as we continue our journey through the past. With all of these pieces falling into place, we can see why Manhattan stands out in E.B. White’s mind as the best of all the boroughs that New York City has to offer; not only did it provide him with memories and critiques that made him create a story that read out sort of like a pamphlet leading newcomers on a specified trail and sort of a short story, but it also allowed for the readers to come along for the ride. That is why I think he wrote this piece; to not only tell people about the world that he lived in, but to educate others and prepare others for their own magical journey through Manhattan so they can make their own memories, and then the next group of people will come and see those memories and the cycle will continue to repeat. For E.B. White, Manhattan was not just a home for him to come and live in, it was also a place where anything could and would happen, and he would be there to see it and let us as the audience see it as well.
Manhattan, as a whole, is a very special place indeed for not only Walt Whitman and E.B. White, but for many people as well including myself. While it might be super busy and been drastically modified throughout the years, it still remains one of the biggest hubs of culture and diversity that I have come to know and love. I might have not been there to see it in its heyday, but I am glad to have finally experienced it by going to college here and seeing what all the talk was about. I might enjoy the quiet and miss home where everyone knows each other and having a lot more grass and different terrain to walk across, but I will not stand here and say that Manhattan has not prepared me for the future ahead of me.
- White, E. B. Here Is New York. Little Bookroom, 2001, marymount.blackboard.com/bbcswebdav/pid-299376-dt-content-rid-1760725_1/courses/AIP_332_OL01__19JA/white here is ny 2011 05 15.pdf.
- Whitman, Walt. “Mannahatta.” Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry Online. 2018. Columbia University Press. 11 Dec. 2018. .
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