Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Song For Occupations

Differences between versions:

   - In the '71 version the poem's title is changed to "A Carol for Occupations," however in the future editions it takes on it's original name again.  The only explanation I can imagine for this is that perhaps Whitman was testing how this alteration might allude to a change in the overall tone of the poem but I would also imagine the tonal quality is what encouraged him to change it back to "A Song for Occupations."  Even though a carol is technically a song, there is something about the weight of a song versus a carol that I think makes the difference.  The title of carol seems almost too lighthearted for the earthly subject matter of the poem.
   - There are several instances where in the future editions Whitman adds phrases that directly address a subject and are followed by exclamation points.  For example in the first few stanzas he adds in a call to the "American Masses!"  In another instance he addresses, "Workmen and Workwomen!"  I think this is originally added as a way to further personalize the piece but in later editions he then goes on to cut the beginning lines altogether, which also cuts a few of these additions.
   - There are several cuts that he makes to tighten up the poem such as the line "If you see a good deal remarkable in me I see just as much remarkable in you."  He also ultimately cuts a huge chunk, which initially begins with "I see not merely that you are polite or whitefaced..."  I think that as he revised the piece he most likely was looking to make it more concise overall, which i think he did.  In the 1855 edition there is a good deal of repetition and rambling that I think comes across cleaner in the future edits.
   - One minor change that struck me was in line 39.  In the first edition he writes "Offspring of those not rich," and in future editions he changes it to "Offspring of those ignorant and poor."  Although this is a small alteration I think it id interesting that he would choose to address fundamentally the same group but with phrasing that clearly holds a more negative connotation.  It seems to suggest Whitman's own growing arrogance as he progresses in his career and reevaluates his message in the poem.  Another moment where this is potentially shown is in line 83 when he changes the phrase "The sum of all known value and respect," to "The sum of all known reverence."  Its as if he is speaking more as a leader or advisor of the masses as opposed to an everyman who is one with the masses.  Its amazing how the connotation of words can make such simple changes hold so much weight and suggestion.
   - There is also one added line that I noticed where he addresses "Camerado."  I looked this up and did not find any definition but it is a name that appears in one of Whitman's other poems, which I thought was interesting however I do not know the significance of this.
   - There is also some general moving around of stanzas such as the large portion starting with "When the psalm sings instead of the singer..."  I think that this editing most likely just has to do with Whitman striving to tighten and arrange the piece in a concise way.
   - Overall I liked "A Song for Occupations" in its multiple forms.  I liked the realness of it and how it aimed to address the entirety of the working class and how the functioning world exists for us.  I did feel that some of the descriptions of the specific job areas in the original edit were somewhat rambling like a laundry list, so I think that the poem ultimately benefitted from the cuts and revisions.

Francis Wright

-She was also a writer and is described as a "freethinker.'
-She was against greed, capitalism, and organized religion.
-She fought for sexual freedom from a feminists perspective.
-She was an abolitionist and created a "utopian" community where slaves could be educated before being released as free citizens.  Ultimately the slaves from the commune were moved to Haiti to live freely after he commune financially collapsed.
-Wright was definitely a forward thinker and believed in the equality between genders as well as blacks and whites.

Specimen Days: Growth-Health-Work

     This segment is written mainly in summary about a chunk of Whitman's younger days working and living in and around New York.  Although there isn't much information in the section there are a few instances where Whitman's voice comes through the text.
     He describes himself as a "most omnivorous novel reader," which seems to indicate that he read often and chose a wide variety of texts.  He goes on to say that he "devour'd everything he could get."  This shows that his passion for reading and writing began at an early age.  He claims to have been fond of the theater but also says that he witnessed fine performance only sometimes, which could either indicate that only a handful of performances were worth remembering or perhaps that some of time he didn't necessarily enjoy it at all.
     He claims his experience teaching in schools was his best experience and held the "deepest lessons in human nature."  These years undoubtedly influenced his future works, especially since he indicated that it taught him about human nature.
     There was one other moment in the final sentence that i found interesting, Whitman refers to his early attempts at poetry and puts the word poetry in quotation marks.  I suppose this is with the intent to leave room for interpretation as to what is even considered poetry and I felt that it might even possibly show a hint of sarcasm with regards to the broad concept of poetry itself.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Happy Hour's Command- Specimen Days

This segment is broken up into two sections written at different times, the second of which refers back to the previously written section.  The first was written "down in the woods" and Whitman starts by describing his incongruous and sporadic writing habits in his notebooks and how he values the randomness of his jottings.  He compares this with the common habits of people who live their lives planning and organizing for what may come but then ultimately wind up unprepared for what life holds.  In this section I also noticed the word "melange," meaning mixture, which I had to look up but I think its a great word.  In the following section Whitman refers back to what he wrote and briefly mentions his time in the hospital observing war aftermath and even experiencing some health problems himself.  I like how he closed the segment by again mentioning the random and disorganized nature of his writings.  He said he'll just "tumble the thing together, and [let] hurry and crudeness tell the story better than fine work" can.  He admits that his book may be the most wayward and fragmentary book ever but he expresses this with pride.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Whitman's Peers

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow- "The Village Blacksmith
                                                 - "The Wreck of the Hesperus"
   In terms of form Wadsworth's poems both have a clear rhyme scheme.  In "The Village Blacksmith" the rhyme and form are not as formulaic as in the "The Wreck of the Hesperus" with its four line stanzas.  The subject matter differs somewhat from Whitman's themes.  For example in the first poem the speaker describes the daily life of the blacksmith, which includes hard work, long hours, and church attendance.  The lifestyle of the blacksmith does not align with Whitman's lifestyle of poetry, loafing, and eroticism in "Leaves of Grass."  Wordsworth's poems each feature a parent-child relationship and a death, which lends for an emotional connection on an individual level.  In the first poem the blacksmith sheds a tear watching his daughter sing and thinking of his deceased wife.  In a way it could be argued that this shows a similarity between the two poets because Whitman does refer to being in touch with one's emotions and one's femininity as well as masculinity, which can be seen in the juxtaposition of the blacksmith's muscles and brawn with his expression of love and grief.  In the second poem a father-daughter relationship is also introduced and a death occurs within the body of the poem.  It reads like a an old sailor's tale, which has a different tonal quality than Whitman's philosophical musings.

Anne C. Lynch- "An Imitation"
   In Lynch's poem nature is a major theme, which parallels with Whitman's poem, although the rhyme scheme and format is more specific in "An Imitation."  It seems that Whitman's peers generally kept closer to formal poetic structure than Whitman but that's not a surprise since he was ahead of his time in more ways than this.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Whitman Motifs:

1)  One recurring theme that caught my attention in Song of Myself was the concept of balance.  This motif was not only presented throughout the poem with the overt use of contrasting terms within a sentence but Whitman also alludes to the idea of balance in some of the sections where he describes broader concepts.
Here are some examples of yin and yang terminology that I noticed as I read:
                - "I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise, Regardless of others, ever regardful of others, Maternal as well as paternal..."
                - "I am the poet of the woman as well as the man, And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man"
                - "I too am of one phase and of all phases.  Partaker of influx and efflux..."
                - "I am not the poet of goodness only...I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also."
                - " more modest than immodest."
                - "...of wombs, and of the fatherstuff"
                - "sounds of the city and sounds out of the city...sounds of the day and night."
                - "Backing and filling, appearing and disappearing"
                - "I help myself to material and immaterial"
                - "...the living and dead lay together"
                - "And know that they who have eyes are divine, and the blind and lame are equally divine"
                - "...ever the upward and downward sun...ever the air and the ceaseless tides"
                - "I do not call one greater and one smaller, that which fills its period and place is equal to any."

  Whitman even brings balance to his belief system and all the topics he covers by suggesting that he contradicts himself, or essentially places weight on both sides of almost all the arguments he makes.  I think that this is a very important thematic concern of the poem because it seems that Whitman's most fundamental purpose throughout the piece is to create a sense of unity amongst all beings.  He aims to develop acceptance for all people and animals and faiths and while he feels there is no one greater than himself and he encourages others to "stand cool and supercilious before a million universes," he also admits to his own faults and misunderstandings and suggests those within others and doesn't even surrender an all-knowing power to God.  

2)  A literary device that Whitman utilizes throughout the piece is anaphora, or the use of the same word or phrase at the beginning of several sentences consecutively.  There are countless less notable instances of this in segments using "the" or pronouns such as "you" at the start of sentences but here are some more unique examples:
  - "For me all that have been boys...
  For me the man that is proud...
  For me the sweetheart and the old maid...
  For me lips that have smiled...
  For me children and the begetters of children."

  - "If they are not yours...
  If they do not enclose...
  If they are not the riddle...
  If they are not just as close..."

  - "Earth of the slumbering...
  Earth of departed sunset...
  Earth of the vitreous pour...
  Earth of shine and dark...
  Earth of the limpid gray..."

  - "Ever the hard and unsunk...
  Ever the eaters and drinkers...
  Ever myself and my neighbors...
  Ever the old inexplicable query...
  Ever the vexer's hoot...
  Ever love...
  Ever the bandage..."

  I think that Whitman chose this rhetorical device not only to create the repetition that we see throughout the poem but also for emphasis and rhythm.  The technique gives a melodic quality to the expressions, which might otherwise feel overly dense and rambling.  For such a long poem I think that this was a wise choice on Whitman's part to break up the varying ideas he discusses and to give the rant a poetic flow.

3)  Another major motif that Whitman refers to again and again is God or at least his concept of God and faith.  He makes several references to the "divine," things made "holy," "prayer" and "worship," but he also heavily references ideas that are in direct contrast to these things such as open sexuality and science.  He does not claim a clear affiliation and gives equal weight to the faiths of others, he does however capitalize the "g" in "God," which indicates his respect and acknowledgement for some higher power or being.  Here are some instances where "God" is mentioned:

  - "I visit the orchards of God and look at the spheric product"
  - "And I know that the hand of God is the elderhand of my own, And I know that the spirit of God is the eldest brother of my own..."
  - "Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touched from;  The scent of these arm-pits is aroma finer than prayer, This head is more than churches or bibles or creeds."
  - "I do not despise you priests;  My faith is the greatest of faiths and the least of faiths, Enclosing all worship ancient and modern, and al between ancient and modern...Waiting responses from oracles...honoring the gods...saluting the sun..."
  - "God will be there and wait till we come."
  - "And I call to mankind, Be not curious about God, For I who am curious about each am not curious about God, No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God and about death."

  I think that it was necessary for Whitman to include references to God and the concept of spirituality in general because he covers such a broad range of topics regarding humanity that something essential would be missing if he did not.  He also makes so many references to eternity and the universe and ideas that are simply incomplete without the mention of spiritual faith and beliefs influenced by religion.  However since he doesn't claim one specific religion or definition of God, he presents a message that can be appreciated and understood by everyone equally.  He states that he sees God in everyone and everything and throughout everyday and every moment.  I think this is a very enlightened position to take, especially during Whitman's day, which was more heavily influenced by religion.

4)  Asking questions to the self and to the reader is another technique that Whitman repeats in Song of Myself.  I think this represents his thought process and creates space for the reader to consider their own answers to these questions before reading through his train of thought.  I think this humanizes Whitman and serves to further unite himself with the reader.

 - "Have you reckoned the earth much?"
 - "Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?"
 - "Who need be afraid of the merge?"
 - "Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?"
 - "Shall I venerate and be ceremonious?"
 - "What is a man anyhow? What am I?"
 - "To be in any form, what is that?"
 - "...and what is called reason, and what is called love, and what is called life?"