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.

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