Just another Looking for Whitman weblog

Jennica for November Twelve

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny and walt at 2:59 pm on Thursday, November 12, 2009


After reading Whitman’s Second Annex: Good-bye My Fancy I became deeply curious about Whitman’s blatant and not-so-blatant use of water with correlation to death. Perhaps it’s merely my own sensitivity to the inferences of water, oceans, wetness, moisture, etc. when reading Whitman’s poetry during his last years; however, if  you read with a bit more care at Whitman’s Second Annex, you will notice how he clearly does make several inferences of water.

Take for instance in his “Preface Note to 2d Annex:”

Last droplets of and after spontaneous rain,
From many limpid distillations and past showers;
(Will they germinate anything? mere exhalations as they all are –the land’s and sea’s –America’s;
Will they filter to any deep emotion? any heart and brain?)

Then read a couple lines further. Whitman speaks of sea creatures and other parts of the ocean: “In fact, here I am these current years 1890 and ’91, (each successive fortnight getting stiffer and stuck deeper) much like some hard-cased dilapidated grim ancient shell-fish or time-bang’d conch (no legs, utterly non-locomotive) cast up high and dry on the shore-sands, helpless to move anywhere –nothing left but behave myself quiet, and while away the days yet assign’d, and discover if there is anything for the said grim and time-bang’d conch to be got at last out of inherited good spirits and primal buoyant centre-pulses down there deep somewhere within his gray-blurr’d old shell …And old as I am I feel to-day almost a part of some frolicsome wave…”

As you can see, Whitman begins to introduce inferences of the water, the ocean, and anything related to the wetness or moisture. He speaks of weak, aged sea creatures like “the hard-cased dilapidated grim ancient shell-fish or time-bang’d conch” and the “frolicsome wave.” What does he mean? Why does he correlate water or natures, which are related to the ocean to death? However, the more interesting aspect is that he does not stop there. Further throughout the Second Annex, he uses themes of water to express his thoughts of dying and death. Take a look at the first poem listed: “Sail Out for Good, Eidolon Yact.” Or even the poem thereafter: “Lingering Last Drops.” These are only a few. Whitman uses lots of water imagery to express death.

But why?

And because like how curiosity killed the cat, to satiate my curiosity, I did some basic research on symbols of water. Based on the universal dream symbols, not only water, but fire as well, have an interesting meaning when they come together:

A perfect example is shown in “A Voice from Death” from Second Annex. Whitman speaks of death. But at the same time, he expresses them with water and fire: “Although I come and unannounc’d, in horror and in pang, / In pouring flood and fire, and wholesale elemental crash” (Whitman 649). If you read the site, and take a second look at some of Whitman’s death poems, you will find how Whitman must’ve had purpose in correlating death with water.

But this doesn’t stop here.

Now I’m even more curious as to what some of the symbols Whitman had in mind when writing these death/water poems…



Comment by emilym

November 12, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

I was interested in the use of water as well. Thank you for posting this.


Comment by taraw

November 19, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

I noticed his use of water as well. I specifically noticed his frequent use of tides. I found this interesting – but didn’t delve too deeply into it. Whitman was very interesting in the cyclical nature of life – and so I think the reliability of the cycles of the tides may have worked with that – as well as the natural rise and fall.

Your post is very interesting. Nice points. It would be interesting to delve more into his use of water – I wonder if it has anything to with his location in Camden and his sojourns to Timber Creek and Laurel Lake. Water for him (Timber Creek) becomes a rejuvenating source – so the connection to death is quite fascinating.


Comment by taraw

November 19, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

very interested. Nice typo me.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Skip to toolbar