Presentation on theme: "The Messy Beauty of Song of Myself Key Features and Devices of Song of Myself."— Presentation transcript:
The Messy Beauty of Song of Myself Key Features and Devices of Song of Myself
Historical and Cultural Contexts The Victorian Age Rising tensions between North and South Popular Democratic revolutions of 1848 across Europe (not successful) 1850s height of the internal slave trade in the U.S. Rapid westward expansion of the U.S.
Literary and Cultural Contexts Transcendentalism Epic poetry and Bible as models for form of Song Whitmans love of the opera and the city in general Multiple reform movements advocating alternatives to the social status quo – Abolitionism – Utopian experiments in socialism – Woman suffrage movement – Religious reform and liberalization
The Unconventional Subject Matter of Song of Myself Common, universal human experiences, often of a rude, unrefined nature Sexual desire The grass Death, birth, sickness, bodily pleasure and pain Marginalized groups (the poor, mentally ill, social outcasts, suicides, slaves, multiracial people, working class, bugs, geese) Unpoetic settings and places (urban streets as well as countryside and frontier)
Themes in Song Multiculturalism, diversity Unfettered natural expression, freedom from artificial restrictions. The value and worth of the individual and democratic equality of all. The transcendental power of the individual. Utopian vision of a horizontal society The ideal interconnection and commonalities between diverse groups in America. Redefining the sacred American identity as an act of self-creation and performance of freedom
Formal innovations Strategic use of catalogues and lists Use of parallel syntax and sentence structure Free verse Use of periodic sentences (extreme deferment of main clause by dependent clauses and phrases) Unrefined, coarse, common diction Omniscient first-person perspective of persona and direct address of the reader
The King James Bible and Song of Myself: Structural Similarities From the King James Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:2 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up A time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and time to dance
From Section 48 of Song of Myself And I have said that the soul is not more than the body, And I have said that the body is not more than the soul, And nothing, not God, is greater to one that ones self is, And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud, And I or you pocketless of a dime may purchase the pick of the earth, And to glance with an eye or show a bean in its pod confounds the learning of all times, And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero, And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the universe, And I say to any man or woman, Let you soul stand cool and composed before a million universes...
Song of Myself and Epic Poetry The opening of Homers The Iliad (9 th century B.C.) Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jovefulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men,and great Achilles, first fell out with one another. The opening of Whitmans Song of Myself (19 th century A.D.) I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume, you shall assume For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you
Central Symbols and Motifs The grass The unrestricted form of the poem itself The human body (especially parts not spoken of openly in Victorian culture) Brotherhood and sisterhood motif The breaking of physical barriers as symbols of transcendence of social barriers The stripping off of restraints (symbolic clothing)
Traditional Poems vs. Whitmans Song Tell me not, in mournful numbers, Life is but an empty dream! For the soul is dead that slumbers, And things are not what they seem Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; Dust thou art, to dust returnest Was not spoken of the soul. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Psalm of Life And as to you death, and you bitter hug of mortality.... It is idle to try to alarm me. To his work without flinching the accoucheur comes, I see the elderhand pressing receiving supporting, I recline by the sills of the exquisite flexible doors.... And mark the outlet, and mark the relief and escape. And as to you corpse I think you are good manure, but that does not offend me, I smell the white roses sweetscented and growing. I reach to the leafy lips.... I reach to the polished breasts of melons. And as to you life, I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths, No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before.
Some Powerful Representative Lines I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,/ And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren, And the tree- toad is a chef-doeuvre for the highest,/And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven,/And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,/And the cow crunching with depressd head surpasses any statue...
Through me many long dumb voices,/ Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,/Voices of the diseasd and despairing and of thieves and dwarfs,/ Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion,/And of the threads that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the father-stuff,/And of the rights of them the others are down upon,/ Of the deformd, trivial, flat, foolish, despised,/ Fog in the air, beetles rolling balls of dung.
The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly, The opium eater reclines with rigid head and just-opend lips, The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck, The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each other, (Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you;) The President holding a cabinet council is surrounded by the great Secretaries
The bull and the bug never worshippd half enough,/ Dung and dirt more admirable than was dreamd,/ The supernautural of no account, myself waiting my time to be one of the supremes,/ The day getting ready for me when I shall do as much good as the best, and be as prodigious;/ By my life-lumps! becoming already a creator, Putting myself here and now to the ambushd womb of shadows.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,/ I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift in lacy jags./ I bequeath 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 fiber of your blood. Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,/ Missing me one place search another, / I stop somewhere waiting for you.
The Whitman of Song... vs. the Whitman of When Lilacs... Which do you prefer? Why? Salient similarities and differences? (Consider content as well as form)
Historical and Literary Contexts of When Lilacs... Written after assassination of Lincoln Modeled after traditional elegy – Poetic lament for something lost Three-stage structure – The lament – Procession of mourners – Consolation
Student Commentary and Discussion Key symbols? Tone and diction? Analysis of powerful passages? Sentence structure? Narrative voice/perspective Content(s) Overall meaning or effect?
Photos and Paintings of Lincolns Funeral Processesion
Over the breast of the spring, amid cities, Amid lanes and through old woods,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land, With the pomp of the inloopd flags with the cities draped in black, With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veiled women standing, With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night
The Grey-Brown Bird in When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomd And the singer so shy to the rest receivd me, The grey-brown bird I know receivd us comrades three, And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love
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