Whitman in old age

November 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Some last thoughts, links, regarding Whitman at the end.

The Robert Creeley essay Professor Folsom mentioned, that disputes the conventional view that Whitman’s poetry in old age fails in comparison to his earlier writing.

One of the texts that has been neglected, based on this commonplace that Whitman’s work after the Civil War fails, is the highly experimental Two Rivulets published in 1876 (as a companion to Leaves of Grass). Note the way Whitman blends poetry and prose. I wrote an article recently that gives more thought to this text and to the older Whitman, in relation to the Emerson he seems to be rejecting. It also focuses on Whitman’s “poetics of digestion.”

Frontispiece of the 1883 edition of Leaves of ...

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Whitman, in his old age, writes a piece that looks back onto Emerson’s influence, and looks (somewhat unfavorably) on Emerson in his old age. The piece is called, wonderfully: “Emerson’s Books (The Shadows of Them)” Here is the conclusion of that piece:

 The reminiscence that years ago I began like most youngsters to have a touch (though it came late, and was only on the surface) of Emerson-on-the-brain—that I read his writings reverently, and address’d him in print as “Master,” and for a month or so thought of him as such—I retain not only with composure, but positive satisfaction. I have noticed that most young people of eager minds pass through this stage of exercise.    6
  The best part of Emersonianism is, it breeds the giant that destroys itself. Who wants to be any man’s mere follower? lurks behind every page. No teacher ever taught, that has so provided for his pupil’s setting up independently—no truer evolutionist.

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