Just another Looking for Whitman weblog

“After the Battle” – a Walt Whitman Cinepoem, by Brian Reece

Please enable Javascript and Flash to view this Flash video.

For a good accompanying soundtrack, listen to Kurt Bestor’s choral work, “Prayer of the Children.” I have tried to embed this particular musical piece in the video many many times, but to no avail.

Visitor’s Center Scripts – Whitman’s Family

On Walter & Louisa Whitman, and their first 5 children:

Whitman Family Dates

Father: Walter Whitman, Sr. (b. 1789, m. 1816, d. 1855); &

Mother: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (b. 1795, m. 1816, d. 1873)

Brother: Jesse Whitman (b. 1818, d. 1870)

Walt Whitman (b. 31 May 1819, d. 26 March 1892)

Sister: Mary Elizabeth Whitman (b. 1821, d. 1899)

Sister: Hannah Louise Whitman (b. 1823, d. 1908)

Brother: Andrew Jackson Whitman (b. 1827, d. 1863)

Brother: George Washington Whitman (b. 1829, d. 1901)

Brother: Thomas Jefferson Whitman (b. 1833, d. 1890)

Brother: Edward Whitman (b. 1835, d. 1892/1902 [some sources differ])

The second son [and second child overall] of Walter and Louisa Whitman [nee Van Velsor], Whitman had 5 brothers and 2 sisters.

Walt’s father, the carpenter Walter Whitman, died in 1855, and thus did not live to see any of Walt’s aesthetic work. Walt, however, did not believe his father would have appreciated Walt’s work any more than did the rest of Walt’s family [which was allegedly very little]. Walt believes his father would have still accepted and loved him, but not understood him, much as with the rest of his family (Schmidgall 34).

Walt loved his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, and spoke much more of her than of his father. Walt describes himself and his mother as “great chums” and speaks highly of her belief in his ability (Schmidgall 33), though she never appreciated nor understood Leaves of Grass.

Walt identifies his family background as Quaker, though he describes his father more as a “friend” or “follower” of a Quaker figure and his mother Louisa as having Quaker “leanings,” “sympathies,” and “tendencies,” rather than as practicing Quakers (Schmidgall 34).

Little is known about Jesse Whitman aside from his being a sailor and his death. Even Horace Traubel, famously close to Walt, knew little of Jesse other than that he died of an aneurism on March 21, 1870 while a patient at the Kings County Lunatic Asylum in Flatbush, Long Island [an event about which Walt was informed by a letter sent the next day]. Traubel alleges that Walt never spoke of Jesse even when showing the letter to Traubel (Schmidgall 37).

Carrying on the Dutch heritage of her mother, Mary Whitman married a mechanic by the name of Van Nostrand in 1840 and lived in Greenport, Long Island. Walt visited her frequently but, according to Traubel, hardly spoke of her in conversation. In the conversation with Traubel in which Walt does speak of Mary, he refers to her frailty resulting from rheumatism, though she had been full of energy as a child (Schmidgall 34-35).

Hannah Whitman [also Hanna], often referred to in family letters as “Han” or “Hann,” seems to be often thought of but seldom visited or visiting. Hannah lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband, Mr. Heyde. This marriage did not seem to be a happy one, as Hannah often would express frustration “that Heyde could be so amiable with others and hateful to her” (Pollak 226). Heyde appears an unfortunate real life Mr. Hyde.

Andrew Jackson Whitman is the least-mentioned of Walt’s three brothers named after presidents. His wife, however, was quite nefarious: She is referred to as a “foul slut” who became a prostitute after he died (Gohdes viii).

In general, Walt was not particularly close with his family. He says, “A man’s family is the people who love him—the people who comprehend him,” and explains that his family never understood him or his work. With regard to his blood family, he sees himself as “isolated” or as “a stranger in their midst”; instead, he sees those close to him [Traubel, the O’Connors and others] as his true family (Schmidgall 33).


Gohdes, Clarence and Rollo G. Silver, eds. Faint clews & indirections; manuscripts of Walt Whitman and his family. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1949.

Pollak, Vivian R. The Erotic Whitman. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Schmidgall, Gary, ed. Intimate with Walt : selections from Whitman’s conversations with Horace Traubel, 1888-1892. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001.


Check out this sample PA paper ballot…particularly the first candidate for County Commissioner!!

Brian for November 17

Concerning Whitman’s “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads” and two giants of American literature: Walt Whitman [of course] and Edgar Allan Poe.

At one point in the “Backward Glance” essay, Whitman talks about Edgar Poe’s poetry and prose. Of Poe’s poetry, Whitman admits he is “not an admirer,” but appreciates the “melodious expressions…of human morbidity.” This is not the first time Whitman talks about Poe: Whitman had an entry in the Specimen Days cluster dated the first day of 1880 titled “Edgar Poe’s Significance.”

Bliss Perry, the great literary scholar and Harvard professor [and editor of The Atlantic Monthly from 1899-1909] who was only a generation younger than Whitman, had a chapter in his book, The American Spirit in Literature, called “Poe and Whitman” [Chapter VIII]. In this chapter, Perry writes about Poe’s theory of verse: “The aim of poetry…is not truth but pleasure. Poetry should be brief, indefinite, and musical. Its chief instrument is sound. A certain quaintness or grotesqueness of tone is a means for satisfying the thirst for supernal beauty. Hence the musical lyric is to Poe the only true type of poetry; a long poem does not exist.”

Whitman is talking about precisely this theory when he continues in “Backward Glance,” “But I was repaid in Poe’s prose by the idea that…there can be no such thing as a long poem. The same thought had been haunting my mind before, but Poe’s argument, though short, work’d the sum out and proved it to me.” Earlier in this entry, as well as in the Specimen Days writing on Poe, Whitman gave Poe a sort of hesitating praise for his poetry. But focusing on Poe’s [non-short story] prose writings, Whitman finds he has more in common with Poe than he previously thought. [A slight aside: I think it’s funny, considering that for Poe a poem cannot be longer than a musical lyric, that some of Whitman’s “long poems” could be justified as poems under this system because of such genre-defining names as “Song of Myself” or (individually, for example) “I Sing the Body Electric”].

Curiously, Bliss Perry does not specifically cite these telling words from Whitman while comparing and contrasting the writers and their respective styles, but this thought of Whitman’s doubtlessly belongs alongside Perry’s argument that the two share such artistic compulsions as “egotism,” “a Romantic temperament” and unconventional literary genius.

Still, even Perry is firm in asserting the striking differences between the two [if you must know what those are, feel free to check out Bliss Perry’s book – now in the public domain], differences that stand regardless of any advertising by contemporary sellers…

About at close as Poe & Whitman are going to get.

About at close as Poe & Whitman are going to get.

Brian for Nov 10

Topic: “Election Day, November, 1884” from the Sands at Seventy cluster in Appendix A of Leaves of Grass.

Summary: In this poem, Whitman considers all the most striking natural scenes and beauty in America, but determines none of these could be called the “powerfulest scene and show”; instead, he argues that he would name “America’s choosing day” as the most powerful scene, as it is the ultimate display of the hemisphere’s humanity. Whitman even references [using italics] “the still small voice” – the way the Holy Spirit is referred to in Christianity – meaning that voting on election day is the spirit of America and Americans: It represents everything America is about.

In referring to the “choosing day,” he is not talking about the yearly elections [sorry, New Jersey, your gubernatorial election would not have counted!], but about the presidential elections.

Whitman is not interested in characters or personalities, but in the actual “act itself” of voting.

Funny enough, though Whitman is enamored of the way America gets to “choose” its President, there were still many groups of people without voting rights: Women [who made up more than half the country] could not vote, and minorities [particularly African-Americans] were prevented by voting by “Jim Crow” laws as well as left unprotected when the Supreme Court declared Civil Rights Acts passed previously “unconstitutional” [and these were the most obvious groups left out. So although Whitman appreciates the idea of citizens choosing their own head of state, the state of suffrage was a far cry from what we would now deem acceptable.

Now, though Whitman was more interested in the act of voting than “in the chosen,” I’m going to take a look at who was involved…after all, Whitman dates the entry the presidential election of 1884.

The presidential election of 1884 was a showdown between Democrat Grover Cleveland – Governor of New York, and Republican James G. Blaine – Senator from Maine and former Speaker of the House. It was an event that featured excessive mudslinging [sound familiar]. Cleveland won the popular vote by only just over 25,000 votes…but the election was much closer than that: Though Cleveland won the electoral vote 219-182, this was only due to Cleveland winning New York’s 36 electoral votes. Now even though Cleveland was the governor of New York, he won the state by only 1,047 votes, but in doing so became the first Democrat elected president since James Buchanan in 1856.

Here I present the candidates:

Grover Cleveland, who fathered a child out of wedlock?!?! No?!?!

Grover Cleveland, who fathered a child out of wedlock?!?! No?!?!

James G. Blaine, who sells his votes to big businesses and is anti-Catholic?!?!

James G. Blaine, who sells his votes to big businesses and is anti-Catholic?!?!

Now [and this is the really fun part], let me state that the incumbent President was Chester A. Arthur, who was interested in reelection. He was, simply, not renominated by the Republican Party. In fact, Arthur is the last sitting President to submit his name for renomination and not receive the nomination.

Here is a picture of a young Chester A. Arthur [aged 29-30ish], who looks suspiciously like Casey Affleck [aged 29-30ish]:

A young Chester A. Arthur, 22 years from becoming President

A young Chester A. Arthur, 22 years from becoming President

Chester A. Arthur today?!?!?  No, Casey Affleck!

Chester A. Arthur today?!?!? No, Casey Affleck!

Brian for Nov 3

This post concerns Whitman’s “Passage to India” from the Songs of Parting cluster in Leaves of Grass.

Quick history lesson: During the time of Whitman’s writing, present-day India as well as many surrounding areas were ruled by British colonial rule known as “British Raj” – a period that lasted from 1858-1947. The Viceroy of India from 1864 until the beginning of 1869 was Sir John Lawrence, a baron from north Ireland. The Viceroy from mid-January 1869 until the beginning of 1872 was Lord Mayo [Richard Bourke] from Dublin.

Now, although the title of this poem is “Passage to India,” the central location of events Whitman is commemorating – the creation of the Suez Canal – took place in Egypt. The Suez Canal was created to connect the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

Suez Canal as seen from space

Suez Canal as seen from space

The completion of the Suez Canal took place in November of 1869 [and it is upon this occasion that Whitman composes], though construction began 10 years earlier. Whitman’s general enthusiasm is not a sentiment limited to himself; in fact, the opening of the canal was “the cause of international celebration and was attended by royalty from all over the world.”

Suez Canal at the beginning

Suez Canal at the beginning

This early postcard depicts a steamer at Port Said, which was the entrance of the Suez Canal along the Mediterranean. The steamer would eventually reach Suez, where it would exit into the Red Sea.

The central sentiment of Whitman in “Passage to India” is the expressed hope for a unity of people of all races and places – [editor’s note: Whitman here returns to his old “Brotherhood (and Sisterhood in this case) of Humanity” theme, one which he had briefly abandoned to focus on America and national unity].

Now, there are a couple potential ironies that I couldn’t help but consider related to Whitman’s poem:

First, Whitman’s celebration of a “passage to India” is ironic because the British Empire, in charge of India at the time, was fiercely opposed to the construction of the Suez Canal [allegedly because of the use of forced labor to build it]. So, at the time Whitman is celebrating the new passage to India, “India” was not celebrating it.

Second, again, India is under British rule at this time. So as far away as India may be from America [the other end of the world], Whitman is still essentially talking about connecting geographically to more English-speaking parts of the world. This may in Whitman’s mind help facilitate his envisioned brotherhood of humanity [if English is spoken all over the world, it’ll be easier for us all to connect, right?], but it also seems convenient for a white English-speaking male to celebrate the connecting of two empires headed up by white English-speaking males.

I won’t hold these potential hangups against Whitman: As he had previously expressed a longing and desire for a brotherhood of humanity, I’m willing to give him the benefit of a doubt here. He likely simply saw the celebration as the perfect occasion to echo his vision for the world.

Material Culture Museum Exhibit – Chestnut st. between Broad & Fourth sts.

Chestnut Street – Between Broad and Fourth

Whitman’s writing directly connected to this material topic is “The First Spring Day on Chestnut Street” from Whitman’s Specimen Days collection. In this piece of prose from around 1880-1881, Whitman expresses his joy and satisfaction at the scene on “Chestnut street — say between Broad and Fourth,” and explains why this part of Philadelphia stands out “even when compared with the great promenade-streets of other cities.”

Whitman describes a bustling scene from the first day of Spring between 1 and 2 in the afternoon, in which “nine-tenths” of the people are in great spirits to be there. A column in the August 6, 1923 edition of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reads, “The poet says that Chestnut [S]treet has a soul. It casts a spell. It is sacred ground. You must look your best when you walk down Chestnut [S]treet – everybody does” (“Men and Things”). Regardless of whether the “poet” cited in the column is Whitman, the sentiment is clearly one Whitman shares in his expressions of wonder. Even regarding the requirement to “look your best when you walk down Chestnut Street,” Whitman feels this is the norm: His second sentence notes the “gay-dress’d crowds,” and he later remarks on the “welldress’d women, ambulating to and fro.”

A Brief History of Time [regarding Chestnut Street]

Chestnut Street was originally laid in 1682 and named Wynne Street after Dr. Thomas Wynne, a Quaker friend of William Penn who traveled with Penn to the new colony. Penn would change the name to Chestnut Street the very next year as he renamed Philadelphia’s major streets after trees (“Chestnut St. 244 Years Old”).

George Washington once stayed at a building on 7th and Chestnut that by 1927 was the Green’s Hotel. Interestingly, Benedict Arnold was married in this same building (“Chestnut St. 244 Years Old”). The first Chestnut Street store opened in 1706 (“Merchants Plan Antique Vista”). By 1851, Philadelphia’s leading business were all located on Chestnut between 2nd & 10th, according to a pamphlet from 1851 published in 1926 by the Evening Bulletin (“Pamphlet Of 1851 Shows Old-Time Chestnut Street”).

A Rapidly Changing Street

According to a Philadelphia Evening Bulletin article from February 24, 1940, the North side of Chestnut Street between 11th and 12th had been a cow pasture in 1830, 50 years before Whitman’s writing. But per the will of Stephen Girard, the land was developed into houses between 1831 and 1837, with 16 of these houses actually on this block of Chestnut Street (“Cows Were On The Carpet”). Along with this article is a picture of that particular block [the North side] from 1864, which, though only 16 years before Whitman’s “First Spring Day” visit, would be drastically different from the view Whitman would have. For by the time of Whitman’s visit, the only “residence” still on Chestnut Street East of Broad was the Baldwin Mansion.

Whitman’s Experience – The Baldwin Mansion

In a catalogue published in 1922 by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, part of the entry on Hartman Kuhn reads, “1118 Chestnut Street, later known as the Baldwin Mansion, was occupied by the Union League Club 1862-1865” (Entry on Hartman Kuhn).

Whitman takes note of the Baldwin Mansion during a snapshot of his walk down the street [these snapshots in part and collectively form more “lists” or “catalogues” for which Whitman is famous]: “[T]he beauty of the cramm’d conservatory of rare flowers, flaunting reds, yellows, snowy lilies, incredible orchids, at the Baldwin mansion near Twelfth street.” As noted in the 1922 catalogue above, the Baldwin mansion in the 1860s played home to the Union League Club, an organization that maintained affiliation with not only Northerners geographically, but Republicans politically (Entry on Hartman Kuhn). There does not seem to be any indication that the mansion served as the main living quarters [during Whitman’s visit] for its owners or anyone else at least until it was sold  to vaudeville producer Benjamin Franklin Keith in 1900 (“Keith May Open Another House”).

Whitman’s Experience – Widening Chestnut Street

In about his only negative comments in “First Spring Day,” Whitman laments the width of Chestnut Street: “Of course it is a pity that Chestnut were not two or three times wider.” The concern over the streets width was not limited to the bard: Between 1915 and 1925, there were at least 14 articles that appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin written on the subject of widening Chestnut Street.

Chestnut Street was widened at least somewhat as early as 1884, only a couple years after Whitman published Specimen Days. In an article from April 11, 1924, the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reports on an unsuccessful suit resulting from the widening of Chestnut Street “under the ordinance of 1884” (“City Wins Street Suit”). This same ordinance is presumably the “old ordinance of Councils” referenced in an article from May 17, 1915 concerning an unsuccessful suit filed by John Wanamaker [the John Wanamaker] (“Wanamaker Loses Appeal”).

The bulk of the debate in the Evening Bulletin over whether to further expand Chestnut Street took place from 1921-1922, as this latter article [Wanamaker] is the only one from before 1921, and the only of the 14 articles from 1925 about street widening concerned the narrowing of sidewalks for the construction of a new subway (“Oppose Sidewalk Cutting”).

Another Center of “Commerce”

Another historical building on Chestnut Street was the Masonic Hall. In this early 19th Century, this hall “was the favorite place for all social and patriotic functions” (Barratt 3), and was where the defeat of Napoleon was celebrated with a grand dinner on February 24, 1814. Though the building burned down on March 9, 1819, it was rebuilt in 1820 (Barratt 9).

Here is an engraving of the Hall from around 1870, about 10 years before Whitman’s day on Chestnut street:

Mason Hall on Chestnut Street - North Side between 7th & 8th sts.

Masonic Hall on Chestnut Street - North Side between 7th & 8th Sts.

A Brief [Concluding] Synopsis

For more than a half century before Whitman, Chestnut Street served as a center for some of Philadelphia’s earliest national [read: Post-Nation-Founding] patriotism and gatherings of politicos. During the Civil War, it served as home to the fervent pro-nation Union League. For years before Whitman went to Chestnut Street, it was a bustling center of business.

In Whitman’s time, the street was a rapidly-changing promenade, but amidst the changes maintained its status as Philadelphia’s commerce center and all-around “happening place.” From all evidential indications, Whitman’s wonder at the street’s personality is well-earned, and his account an accurate description of the street’s typical scene historically.


Barratt, Norris S. & Sachse, Julius Friedrich. Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, 1727-1907. Volume 3. The New Era Printing Company: Lancaster, PA. 1919.

Entry on Hartman Kuhn. From the Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition of Portraits by Thomas Sully. By Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Philadelphia. 1922.

“Keith May Open Another House.” From “William Wegener in Grand Opera.” Special to the New York Times. August 9, 1900. The New York Times Archives. Accessed October 21, 2009.                  < C946197D6CF>.

“Masonic Hall” [Chestnut St. abv., 7th, N. side]. Copy of engraving by William Kneass after William Strickland. Topics: Robert Newell Photographs from the Library Company of Philadelphia. From the Brenner Collection. Accessed October 21, 2009.   <>.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Chestnut Street – Miscellaneous – 1969 & Prior, Chestnut St. 244 Years Old, March 18, 1927, Philadelphia, Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Chestnut Street – Miscellaneous – 1969 & Prior, Cows Were On    The Carpet, February 24, 1940, Philadelphia, Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Chestnut Street – Miscellaneous – 1969 & Prior, Men and Things, August 6, 1923, Philadelphia, Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Chestnut Street – Miscellaneous – 1969 & Prior, Pamphlet Of 1851 Shows Old-Time Chestnut Street, April 11, 1926, Philadelphia, Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Chestnut Street – Widening, City Wins Street Suit, April 11, 1924, Philadelphia, Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Chestnut Street – Widening, Oppose Sidewalk Cutting, February 5, 1925, Philadelphia, Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Chestnut Street – Widening, Wanamaker Loses Appeal, May 17, 1915, Philadelphia, Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia Inquirer, Chestnut Street – Miscellaneous – 1969 & Prior, Merchants Plan Antique    Vista, August 26, 1956, Philadelphia, Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia, PA.

Brian for October 13 – War, Wisconsin, Chancellorsville

This post regards Whitman’s journal article entitled “Death of a Wisconsin Officer.” from the collection Memoranda During the War.

In this journal entry, Whitman spends most of his writing admiring the pains the surgeons and nurses go through [including keeping the place quiet] to keep men alive and notes the sharp change in treatment and attention toward the patients once their [the patients’] conditions were deemed terminal.

When I first read this journal article, I realized that I didn’t even know that Wisconsin had been an active player in the “War of the Rebellion.” As it turns out, Wisconsin was very Unionist in its sentiment, having enrolled over 91,000 for the Northern Army [73 total regiments].

Wisconsin in 1863

As you can see from this map from 1863 [the same year Whitman cites for his entry] made by Johnson & Ward, Wisconsin already existed in land-size the way we know it today. Having become a state in 1848, Wisconsin had previously been known as the Wisconsin Territory, an area that also included the present-day states of Minnesota, Iowa and parts of both Dakotas.

Whitman notes that this particular lieutenant was a casualty [nothing casual about it — is that in bad taste??] of Chancellorsville, one of the bloodiest battles [up] to date of the war.

In this vibrant and brilliantly-colored portrayal of the Battle of Chancellorsville, we see the war raging in the background, while in the foreground, Stonewall Jackson reacts to the friendly-fire shot that would ultimately lead to his death.

Chancellorsville was a terrible defeat for the Union [including Whitman’s dying Wisconsin lieutenant]; but it was not without cost also to the Confederates, who lost a greater percentage of fighters from the battle, and who also lost a top field commander in Jackson.

Brian for Oct 06 — George Washington [Whitman]

My post stems from part of the poem, “Virginia–The West”

Part of Whitman’s struggle is reflected in the final line:
“For you provided me Washington–and now these also.”

Having previously sung the praises of the new nation and its possibilities, Whitman is baffled that the very land that gave the nation its greatest hero prior to Lincoln [and the namesake for Whitman’s brother George] is the same land that produced those trying to break up the nation.

The Greatest Virginian

Above: The Greatest Virginian

The apple has fallen far from the tree

Above: The apple has fallen far from the tree

As we discussed in class, for Whitman America was to produce greatness down through the generations, and yet this generation of Virginians had gone in reverse direction from all the heroism of the General and first President.

Also, it was in Virginia that Whitman’s brother George Washington Whitman was injured during the war.

George Washington Whitman

George Washington Whitman

It was after visiting his brother in the hospital in December of 1962 that Whitman moved to the area and spent nearly all his free time volunteering as a nurse in the war hospitals for the next three years.

This poem reflects a time that profoundly impacted and inspired Whitman’s life and writings on war. This last point on the war injury to Whitman’s brother is especially poignant with regard to the last line of the poem: Virginia provided [George] Washington, who provided life to Whitman’s brother [symbolically at least, through name]. But Virginia also provided those who tried to kill George Washington Whitman, and thus alone provided the fatherstuff of civil war.

Brian for September 29 – Calamus, Ulysses, etc.

In an article for “The Chronicle Review,” published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Prof. Steven G. Kellman addresses the legacy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. A couple points from his article made me think I was reading a review of the Life and Writing of Walt Whitman:

Joyce’s Ulysses, named the best English-language novel of the 20th Century by the Modern Library, is a “book more venerated than read,” which I thought was a good description of Whitman’s general body of works: Other than knowing “O Captain! My Captain!” [my favorite Whitman poem] from the movie Dead Poets Society, and perhaps the lines “I celebrate myself” and “I sing the body electric” from Leaves of Grass, most laypersons would likely not be able to quote or claim to have read any of the “Poet of Democracy.”

Kellman’s other main point which resonated strongly with our current Whitman readings is the way Ulysses successfully elevates the banal and ordinary to the level of high art in what Northrop Frye calls “the mimetic mode.” We have already seen in “Song of Myself” how the ordinary becomes the extraordinary in Whitman’s celebration of humanity. But in “Calamus,” Whitman goes further, elevating the profane to the highest level.

As elucidated by Prof. Tyler Hoffman in an introductory lecture on Whitman [Rutgers University – Camden graduate course, 03 September 2009], Whitman chose carefully the image of calamus in naming his poems on “manly love,” with the phallic-shaped plants serving as an overt central symbol of Whitman’s beloved penis-fest.

Likewise, although not cited by Kellman, Joyce in Ulysses elevates the obscene to artistic in the episode “Nausicaä,” in which a pornographic image of main character Leopold Bloom masturbating to the sight of Gerty MacDowell’s underpants is described as [and alongside] the most magnificent fireworks shooting into the sky and exploding all over Dublin.

This brings up another point – that both Whitman and Joyce, despite having written their respective works long ago [nearly a century now for Joyce], are still considered pornographic to a certain degree even by today’s much more liberal standards.

In any case, Joyce was certainly a follower of Whitman as a celebrator of ordinary life in his [Joyce’s] aesthetic masterpiece.

Skip to toolbar