We are continuing through Book II of Leaves of Grass today: Starting from Paumanok.
3. Americanos! conquerors! marches humanitarian! Foremost! century marches! Libertad! masses! For you a programme of chants. Chants of the prairies, Chants of the long-running Mississippi, and down to the Mexican sea, Chants of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, Chants going forth from the centre from Kansas, and thence equidistant, Shooting in pulses of fire ceaseless to vivify all.
4. Take my leaves America, take them South and take them North, Make welcome for them everywhere, for they are your own off-spring, Surround them East and West, for they would surround you, And you precedents, connect lovingly with them, for they connect lovingly with you. I conn'd old times, I sat studying at the feet of the great masters, Now if eligible O that the great masters might return and study me. In the name of these States shall I scorn the antique? Why these are the children of the antique to justify it.
If you recall, this isn’t the first time that Whitman has referred to his poems as leaves. He is scattering his poems into the wind, hoping they travel the world. Continuing in the tradition of the second verse, Whitman furthers the idea that his poems will be studied far into the future. I found the twist in time interesting – while he used to study the great masters, the next set of great masters will be turning to him.
At this point in history, I think America was still struggling in the literary shadow of Britain and Europe. Whitman is wondering whether in the “name of these States” he should scorn the old masters, the European literati. He is trying to pave his own way and create a new, American literary tradition. (Do you remember his poem, To Foreign Lands?) It’s pretty exciting to see some recurring themes come back, as we connect the dots through his poems. I am not sure which American writers Whitman admired as part of the new American tradition besides Ralph Waldo Emerson. This might be an interesting segue for some Wikipedia research sometime.
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!