#21.2 Starting from Paumanok, verses 3-4

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We are continuing through Book II of Leaves of Grass today: Starting from Paumanok.

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.
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!

8 thoughts on “#21.2 Starting from Paumanok, verses 3-4

  1. I wish I knew more about Whitman and American literature in general, for some reason it’s always more easier to travel to South America and their literary delights, you need to educate me, my friend.

    • You know how it is in America, we’re very self-absorbed! Focused on American literature and not much else! I had 3 years of American literature in high school and only one very brief jaunt into British literature. (That was all Shakespeare and Beowulf, of course!)

      • I tend to find my interest in American literature, is more to the non fiction (except the brilliant Catch 22 of course!) of late. There is still so much to explore. If you are going to jaunt over to the British then Shakespeare is always a great choice, I haven’t read Beowulf yet though…

        • Ah Beowulf – it was a headache for me as a teenager to try to understand the Old English. I might have to pick it up again sometime.

          And yes! Catch-22 is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m glad to find a fellow Catch-22 fan.

          • Catch 22 always seems underrated which is a crying shame, did you read the follow up Closing Time? It was a lot more serious but very moving to catch up with some of those characters again.

            • No, I haven’t! I was nervous that it wouldn’t live up to Catch-22 so I was avoiding it. I actually haven’t read anything else by Heller. My library has a copy of Something Happened, have you read that one?

            • I haven’t read anything else either, just those two. It does have a different feel to it and is a lot more serious but still retains that cleverness. It’s a mature work and rewarding.

  2. Pingback: #21.3 Starting from Paumanok, verse 5 | Like Bears to Honey

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