Posts Tagged ‘walt whitman’

Photo: Library of Congress
Walt Whitman holding a butterfly.

I love reading about the early writings of famous authors. For example, the Brontë children worked on stories about a kingdom they invented called Angria and another kingdom called Gondal, in which the hero was based on the Duke of Wellington.

Sometimes authors do not want anyone to know about their unpolished work, though. Jane Austen convinced her sister to burn letters and other writings after her death. And Walt Whitman wrote an anonymous potboiler that was kept under wraps until a grad student with a knack for finding lost work discovered it last summer.

Rachel Leah writes at Salon, “A new Walt Whitman novel is now available for purchase, 125 years after the author’s death. Previously, the text had only been published anonymously in a six-part series in a New York City newspaper in 1852.

“But last summer the novel was rediscovered by a graduate student deep within the Library of Congress. This is the second Whitman novel that the literary scholar Zachary Turpin has unearthed. …

“Turpin previously uncovered a lengthy newspaper series on fitness and healthy living that Whitman had published under a pseudonym in 1858, CBS reported.

“The novel titled ‘The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle’ was published online on Feb. 20 in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, and soon will be in book form, courtesy of the University of Iowa Press. …

“Perhaps most remarkable is the novel’s relevant subject matter.

“According to Whitman expert David S. Reynolds, ‘This is Whitman’s take on the city mystery novel, a popular genre of the day that pitted the “upper 10 thousand” — what we would call the 1 percent — against the lower million,’ he told The New York Times.” Hmmm.

More at Salon, here, and at the Times, here.

I’m always sorry — not only for the sake of researchers, but for those of us who like literary biographies — that early writings are lost. And now that no one uses a typewriter or writes by hand anymore, we are also losing the thought process that was once revealed in cross-outs and scribbled corrections. We have yet to plumb the full cost of that loss.

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I Hear America Singing

By Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.


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We had just enough snow yesterday to top off the cross-country trail my husband likes, but he’s pretty sure today was his last day skiing this season.

Before winter is entirely gone, check out a charming children’s book called Once Upon a Northern Night.

In the words of Maria Popova at BrainPickings.org, “Writer Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault weave a beautiful lullaby in Once Upon a Northern Night (public library | IndieBound) — a loving homage to winter’s soft-coated whimsy, composed with touches of Thoreau’s deep reverence for nature and Whitman’s gift for exalting ‘the nature around and within us.’ …

” ‘Once upon a northern night
a great gray owl gazed down
with his great yellow eyes
on the milky-white bowl of your yard.
Without a sound
not even the quietest whisper,
his great silent wings lifted and
he drifted,
leaving a feathery sketch
of his passing
in the snow.’ “

More about the book here.

Popova recommends that you complement Once Upon a Northern Night with Tove Jansson’s Finnish “classic Moominland Midwinter, then revisit the best children’s books of the year.”

My local indie bookstore is getting a lot of extra business because of Popova’s reviews of children’s books. In fact, I told the shop manager yesterday he should follow Brain Pickings, but there was a long line at the register, and I don’t think he wrote it down.

Art: Isabelle Arsenault/Groundwood Books
Once Upon a Northern Night


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The Telegraph notes how advertisers have been turning to classic poets to sell products.

Charlotte Runcie gives this example: “The new ad for the iPad Air features a voiceover from Robin Williams in his Whitman-toting Dead Poets Society incarnation. The Whitman extract in question is from Leaves of Grass:

“O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
“Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish

“… Answer.
“That you are here—that life exists and identity,
“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

Here’s another: “Levi’s chose an extract from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to reboot their advertising campaign for 501 jeans in 2005.

“The magical fairy forest became downtown LA, with Bottom – played by Joshua Alba – getting grabbed by a member of a nearby gang, who exclaims: ‘Oh Bottom, thou art changed! What do I see on thee?’ At this point in the play, Bottom has grown donkey ears. In the advert, he has bought new jeans.

“Then fairy queen Titania arrives, and says:

“Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note;
“So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape…

All good fun. But I think companies should reach out to contemporary poets the way Ford once reached out to poet Marianne Moore. It would be a good way for poets to earn a little money doing what they love. Then again, companies may prefer the “free” aspect of dead poets.

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I’m going to repost the Poem-a-Day that Poets.org sent this morning. Readers who are into poetry may like it because it is Walt Whitman. (Even when Whitman writes prose, it sounds like poetry.) Readers who are into history may like it because it is Lincoln.

Specimen Days [The Inauguration]
by Walt Whitman

“March 4th.–The President very quietly rode down to the Capitol in his own carriage, by himself, on a sharp trot, about noon, either because he wish’d to be on hand to sign bills, or to get rid of marching in line with the absurd procession, the muslin temple of liberty and pasteboard monitor. I saw him on his return, at three o’clock, after the performance was over. He was in his plain two-horse barouche, and look’d very much worn and tired; the lines, indeed, of vast responsibilities, intricate questions, and demands of life and death, cut deeper than ever upon his dark brown face; yet all the old goodness, tenderness, sadness, and canny shrewdness, underneath the furrows. (I never see that man without feeling that he is one to become personally attach’d to, for his combination of purest, heartiest tenderness, and native Western form of manliness.) By his side sat his little boy, of ten years. There were no soldiers, only a lot of civilians on horseback, with huge yellow scarfs over their shoulders, riding around the carriage. (At the inauguration four years ago, he rode down and back again surrounded by a dense mass of arm’d cavalrymen eight deep, with drawn sabres; and there were sharpshooters station’d at every corner on the route.) I ought to make mention of the closing levee of Saturday night last. Never before was such a compact jam in front of the White House–all the grounds fill’d, and away out to the spacious sidewalks. I was there, as I took a notion to go–was in the rush inside with the crowd–surged along the passage-ways, the blue and other rooms, and through the great east room. Crowds of country people, some very funny. Fine music from the Marine Band, off in a side place. I saw Mr. Lincoln, drest all in black, with white kid gloves and a claw-hammer coat, receiving, as in duty bound, shaking hands, looking very disconsolate, and as if he would give anything to be somewhere else.”

January sky

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The Poem-a-Day for today, from poets.org.
Election Day, November, 1884

If I should need to name, O Western World, your

powerfulest scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara–nor you, ye limitless

prairies–nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite–nor Yellowstone, with all its

spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies,

appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones–nor Huron’s belt of mighty

lakes–nor Mississippi’s stream:
–This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now,

I’d name–the still small voice vibrating–America’s

choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen–the act itself the

main, the quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d–sea-board

and inland–Texas to Maine–the Prairie States–

Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West–the

paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling–(a swordless

Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern

Napoleon’s:) the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity–welcoming the darker

odds, the dross:
–Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to

purify–while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.


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