I’m still making my way through the first section of Leaves of Grass, “Inscriptions.” The next poem is called “To a Historian.”
To a Historian You who celebrate bygones, Who have explored the outward, the surfaces of the races, the life that has exhibited itself, Who have treated of man as the creature of politics, aggregates, rulers and priests, I, habitan of the Alleghanies, treating of him as he is in himself in his own rights, Pressing the pulse of the life that has seldom exhibited itself, (the great pride of man in himself,) Chanter of Personality, outlining what is yet to be, I project the history of the future.
To be honest, I don’t have much to say about this poem. It seems like Whitman is telling his contemporaries who are obsessed with looking backwards and to the previous Golden Eras of culture (maybe the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, you know, the typical eras that art historians are obsessed with), that he is looking forward instead. Whitman seems to have adopted a sort of Jesus/Messiah-esque ego in writing this book. He is prophesying the future of American literature and establishing himself at the helm of this new era. I’m not sure if I would get along with him in “real life,” I think his ego would get in the way!
I looked up the Alleghanies, because it wasn’t a term that I was familiar with. I found out this is actually referring to the Allegheny Mountain Range, which is part of the Appalachians. These mountains run from Pennsylvania, through Maryland, and into the Virginias.
As far as I can tell, Whitman was never truly a “habitan of the Alleghanies.” Instead, he was born in Long Island, New York, and bounced around the New York area, and briefly lived in Washington, before settling in New Jersey. His childhood home in Huntington Station is a historic site that is open to the public. The house was built by his father around 1819. I might have to make a trip out to see this site later this year!
As always, I invite you to join me. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well! Are you just tuning in? You’re in luck – since this is only the sixth poem, it’s really easy to catch up on Whitman Wednesday posts!