Whitman Unit 9
Discuss in general Whitman’s views on political, social, ethnic and sexual equality. How would you describe Whitman’s values and where would you place him today in terms of American politics? Defend your views by frequent reference to the poems.
Discuss in detail the section of Leaves of Grass that begins “Twenty-eight Young Men Bathe by the Shore.” What emotions are here being brought into play? What is Whitman’s sense of empathy in this poem and is he able to genuinely put himself into a woman’s mind and sensibility? How do you see that?
What sort of woman is Whitman talking about in “A Woman Waits for Me”?
Whitman’s ideals on the equality of people place him, to me, as a multicultural teacher at the college level. My multicultural professor in college used to say, “That’s powerful, powerful stuff.” He would try to change our paradigms, our models that we saw the world with. He would introduce a topic and actually make us feel and see both sides, no matter what the topic was. He made us understand where it came from and where it was going to. That in my mind is Whitman. I think the populace at heart always understands that all people are to be treated equally. However, we slip up at times, and don’t even realize it. That’s the key is realizing it. There’s a new mouthwash commercial where two people meet coming out of an igloo and share an embrace due to a powerful mouthwash. They were trying to get across that it was cool tasting. What I and others here in Nome, Alaska, said was that we have never seen people living in igloos.
Whitman is that way. Whitman would most definitely be a democrat today, making sure that all people were getting the same treatment as everybody else, yet still be themselves.
I am the poet of the body
And I am the poet of the soul
And I am
I go with the slaves of the earth equally with he masters
And I will stand between the masters and the slaves,
Entering into both so that both will understand me alike.
There are no sides. There are just two people who need to be heard. I believe Whitman was using a new type of royal pronoun. He was not using the royal “we” but rather the “I” that lets an American be himself yet part of a larger whole.
The section that begins with “Twenty-eight Young Men Bathe by the Shore” tells the story of a young girl of 28 looking upon the swimming men on the beach, a peeping-tom from her own house. She pretends she is there with them, touching them (“An unseen hand also pass'd over their bodies “) and splashing them. She is looking upon them as objects. This is at a time before women were even allowed mention of such behavior. He is empathizing his feelings upon her, I imagine, as we all think about people from a distance. This is even such a distance as looking out the house at the bathers. I want to equate this to men’s magazines and the dirty jokes that people make about men and these magazines together. I think this is a fantastic image of this concept, but from a 1860s perspective.
It is I, you women, I make my way,
I am stern, acrid, large, undissuadable, but I love you,
I do not hurt you any more than is necessary for you,
I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for these States, I
press with slow rude muscle,
I brace myself effectually, I listen to no entreaties,
I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long accumulated within me.
Whitman is talking about a woman that he can have wonderful sexual relations with, and start the next generation with. He knows that this product of their union will also be doing this same act. “I shall expect them to interpenetrate with others, as I and you inter-penetrate now.” This woman will share this with him. This is not a solitary act or an act between two people. They make love now so that their progeny can make love in the future, ad infinitum.