missvirginia on Oct 19th 2009
I think the best quote that personifies the answer to the prompt questions this week is from Calder’s “Persona Recollections of Walt Whitman”. She mentions that when Whitman heard about a soldier from the West who had never seen an orange, he immediately brought oranges to that soldier on his next visit. I find it similar to his relationship to his readers. Before Whitman, there really wasn’t any poet like him; a poet who wrote of a seductive nature and earth, a mad and violent people who were…us, Americans (almost exclusively in Drum-taps). Whitman saw that none of us had seen these “oranges” of provocative text, so he immediately got to work in order to help us taste the tangy, slightly acidic, and citrusy morsels of the poetry that became a definition of the War and of the people.
In Morris’ book, The Better Angel, I remember reading it this summer and being shocked at Whitman’s view on slavery. It baffled me to think someone who may have been fearful of persecution because of his sexuality, would be somewhat judgmental towards African-Americans. When Morris elaborates on Whitman’s childhood friend who was black, and that he practically was “Uncle Tom”, I felt uneasy. The man who I had thought wanted Americans, ALL Americans, to be free no matter their sex, education, background, origin was a little dashed away in my mind. Morris quotes Whitman’s poetry, “I am the poet of slaves and the masters of slaves, I go with the slaves of the earth equally with the masters and I will stand between the masters and the slaves, Entering into both so that both shall understand me alike.” Morris also tells us that Whitman had equally been not fond of “hotheaded” abolitionists nor of die-hard pro-slavery activists. I feel disappointed in Whitman, I almost feel like he resented both parties, that they both had created the War. However, I think that it would have been utterly impossible to go on the way the country was going. A country cannot have some states allowing something and another few finding the same thing illegal. Today we have medical marijuana and different types of legal alcohol (Everclear, allowed in North Carolina, but not in Virginia), albeit none of those issues are as pressing as human bondage, but it creates a kind of understanding of what is in the present. I think Whitman would have been ecstatic for the country to continue being somewhat divided on the slavery issue, as long as there were a way of working it out beyond war. Again, I think Whitman was somewhat of a dreamer and this is just another well-wished dream of probably many Americans of that time. Whitman still continued to unite the Confederacy and the Union through his poetry and not singling out any extreme, violent enemy, but looking at the soldiers as “our boys” alike, despite their north/south origin.
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