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Finding Walt Whitman
Transcript of Finding Walt Whitman
When you read these, I, that was visible, am become invisible;
Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems, seeking me;
Fancying how happy you were, if I could be with you, and become your comrade;
Be it as if I were with you. (Be not too certain but I am now with you.)
Leaves of Grass, *73
Born May 31st 1819 in West Hills, Long Island
Saw himself early on as "American"
Went to school until he was 11
Worked as an office clerk, printer's assistant and a teacher.
Read the classics, but never went to college.
A facination for writing and for the big city led him to become a journalist
He took a trip west that exposed him to more of America
In 1855 he published "Leaves of Grass" with his own money
"Leaves" continued to be revised until it was in its 9th edition
Whitman ignored tradition, abandoning rhyme schemes, "the king's English" and meter.
He invented a way of writing that expressed what he saw and how he felt.
He created poetry without limits because the lines flowed into one another, pulling the reader in.
He claimed to be the voice of America - identifying himself in "Leaves of Grass" with every element in the universe
He was self made - creating his image as the "every man"
At first glance full of contradictions, he was "in the crowd, but not of it"
Whitman went to care for his brother who was wounded at the First Battle of Fredericksburg
While there Whitman cared for many other wounded soldiers
What he saw profoundly affected him and his writing
He wrote that "the real war will never get in the books" knowing that the toll of the war was felt by those in the hospitals and left dying on the battlefield
I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.
A SIGHT in camp in the day-break grey and dim,
As from my tent I emerge so early, sleepless,
As slow I walk in the cool fresh air, the path near by the hospital tent,
Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there, untended lying,
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woollen blanket,
Grey and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.
Curious, I halt, and silent stand;
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest, the first, just lift the blanket:
Who are you, elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-grey’d hair, and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you, my dear comrade?
Then to the second I step—And who are you, my child and darling?
Who are you, sweet boy, with cheeks yet blooming?
Then to the third—a face nor child, nor old, very calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man, I think I know you—I think this face of yours is the face of the Christ himself;
Dead and divine, and brother of all, and here again he lies.
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me;
It flings my likeness after the rest, and true as any, on the shadow’d wilds;
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air—I shake my white locks at the runaway sun;
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--
I, too, am America.