Just another Looking for Whitman weblog

Jennica for November Nineteen

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny and walt at 4:14 pm on Thursday, November 19, 2009

A couple days ago, I have received a call from my father saying that my grandfather is in the hospital undergoing a surgery. Apparently a blood vein or something of that matter has popped and is clotted in a small area of his brain. Old age and death is quite a transparent matter, I think. Yet on the other hand, it’s quite opaque. Old age and death seems so simple, yet if you think about it, it’s quite complicated.

This was how Walt Whitman must’ve felt.
My grandfather, once a Korean general, a great fighter in life and at heart, is now wilting away. Or rather, will soon wilt away into the ground. Walt Whitman, too, “casting backward glances over [his] travel’d road” “[a]fter years of those aims and pursuits” is now at his deathbed when he writes the Deathbed edition of “Leaves of Grass:” Second Annex: Good-Bye my Fancy and his “Backward Glance o’er Travel’d Roads. (Whitman 657).
I personally do not know death. I do not know old age. I do not know what it feels like to have traveled over many different types of roads to be contemplating what it feels like to be near death. However, I believe Walt Whitman and my grandfather do know…

After reading the First and Second Annex of the Deathbed editions of “Leaves of Grass,” I felt many emotions within Whitman’s writings. I could feel him at times, optimistic–trying to take death and old age as it is with positive spirit. However, other times, I can feel him like a normal everyday man, not a great poet: afraid, nervous, not-knowing-what-to-do, not-knowing-what-to-express. Though most of his poems do reflect a type of optimism in face of death, he too, is human. However, one of the many aspects I admire of Walt Whitman is his willingness to live to the end. Just because his body is now a bit sluggish, tired, and in pain or even if the fear of death may at times disturb his heart, he still, to the end, does not put his pen down. If you read in NY Times in 1888, you can see how Whitman is still focused on America. He wants to finish what he has to complete before he dies:

I find his spirit and attitudes toward life and death quite admirable. Again, I am reminded of how he deserves to be called the Great Poet of America…
Now on a personal note, if only my grandfather could have a tiny bit of Whitman’s spirit…

One of the most tranquil field trips ever: Whitman’s Cemetery

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny and walt at 3:47 pm on Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who would’ve ever thought cemeteries  could be so beautiful, let alone tranquil? When one thinks of cemeteries, what comes to mind? For me, I think of rough-cornered tombstones; dark, mist-filled nights; black cats; not little cute ghosts like Casper, but you know, the real ones, the real ghosts. Well, maybe that was a bit too over-exaggerated. But really. Would would’ve thought that Whitman’s cemetery would be like that of an actual haven? Not only do we find real nature scenes coming to life in Whitman’s poetry, but he even brings them to life after death. His tomb was literally coming out from the ground. Surrounded by nature, literally connected with roots from trees, it was almost as if Whitman was a part of the ground… the grass. It was amazing. The experience was so tranquil and beautiful… This may sound a bit bizarre, but it was so nice that if I could, I would want to live nearby somewhere by the pond beside Whitman’s grave. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sane. You just have to experience going to Whitman’s cemetery yourself to see what I mean.

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…

Jennica for November Fifth

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny and walt at 12:49 am on Thursday, November 5, 2009
Pensive on Her Dead Gazing

PENSIVE, on her dead gazing, I heard the Mother of All,

Desperate, on the torn bodies, on the forms covering the battle-fields gazing;
(As the last gun ceased—but the scent of the powder-smoke linger’d; )
As she call’d to her earth with mournful voice while she stalk’d:
Absorb them well, O my earth, she cried—I charge you, lose not my sons! lose not an atom; 5
And you streams, absorb them well, taking their dear blood;
And you local spots, and you airs that swim above lightly,
And all you essences of soil and growth—and you, my rivers’ depths;
And you, mountain sides—and the woods where my dear children’s blood, trickling, redden’d;
And you trees, down in your roots, to bequeath to all future trees, 10
My dead absorb—my young men’s beautiful bodies absorb—and their precious, precious, precious blood;
Which holding in trust for me, faithfully back again give me, many a year hence,
In unseen essence and odor of surface and grass, centuries hence;
In blowing airs from the fields, back again give me my darlings—give my immortal heroes;
Exhale me them centuries hence—breathe me their breath—let not an atom be lost; 15
O years and graves! O air and soil! O my dead, an aroma sweet!
Exhale them perennial, sweet death, years, centuries hence.

After reading Whitman’s “Pensive on Her Dead Gazing” from SONGS OF PARTING, (though it may be a bit of a stretch) I personally heard Whitman’s mother, Louisa Van Velsor, through the image of Mother of All or in other words, Mother Nature. I think this poem could be read in three ways: Mother of All as Mother Nature;  Mother of All as Louisa Van Velsor; Mother of All as mothers of all people. If reading it the second way, Whitman would be personifying Mother Nature.

According to Whitman’s biography, when his brother went to war there are evidences of Louisa sending Whitman and her other sons letters filled with anxiety and love. In this sense, with a psychoautobiographical approach, it may be Whitman secretly expressing his feelings during the time of war. This may be a poem dedicated to his mother who was worried sick at the time.

Or if we read the poem the latter way where Whitman personifies Mother Nature as mothers of all sons who went to war, we would definitely be able to see the correlation. The diction and imagery Whitman uses are so genuine and heartfelt.

By and by, I was moved after reading this poem. It has so much power and strong descriptions of death and realities of war that it seems so real. As if the war is happening right in front of my eyes. I could almost feel the earth trembling beneath me. I think this is one of Whitman’s greatest styles in his poetry: making the text come to life.

Jennica’s Digital Museum: Whitman’s Canary and the Bolton Group

Filed under: digitalmuseum — jenny and walt at 6:44 pm on Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Now, before you start jumping into questions like what in the world a canary has anything to do with America’s Good Gray poet, first think about what it means to be loved and admired. Just like in today’s pop culture, where famous stars would be flocked about with roaring fans and paparazzi, back in the day, Walt Whitman also had admiring followers of his own. One of the more popular groups was the aficionados in Bolton, England.

Bolton Group

The Bolton group was a small body of twenty-some men and woman who devoted their Sundays to admire and revere Whitman and his works. However, they were not just there merely to read and discuss his works. Their affections for Whitman grew into a type of idolization of Walt Whitman. They nearly thought of him as a “kind of god,” “the new Messiah” (Reynolds 583). Led by two of Whitman’s British friends, Dr. John Johnston and J.W. Wallace, their camaraderie revolved around a sense of “excessive adulation and cloying nostalgia” (Reynolds 583). During that time, Whitman and one of America’s leading agnostic figures, Robert Ingersoll, had been exchanging a clash of thought with regards to the question of afterlife. Though these two individuals had an affinity for each other since they “both rejected formal religion and espoused a humanistic faith that owed much to modern science,” “saw Darwinian evolution as a source of hope, not pessimism,” and “were boosters of American industrial expansion,” at the same time, they disagreed when it came to the question of afterlife (Reynolds 580). Therefore, during this time, when Whitman came across Johnston and Wallace, they were not only able to bring him a sense of religious consolation, but Whitman in turn, became a personal comfort for the recent death of Wallace’s dear dead mother. In this sense, Wallace seemed to feel a stronger connection to Whitman.



Soon thereafter, Wallace and Johnston had influenced another devotee of Whitman to formulate another Bolton group even in other continents like Australia. Like Wallace and Johnston, Bernard O’Dowd led a group of men and woman in celebrating the works of Whitman with religious intensity. In the end, with the help of Whitman’s admirers, it led to the founding of a Whitman “church” (Reynolds 581).



So now that we’ve touched upon a bit about the star, Walt Whitman, now we must observe how the fans had “[celebrated] the birth of Walt Whitman” (Reynolds 584). Like today, as many fans would dedicated personalized fan-sites, shrines, and create certain days that would celebrate their idols’ birthdays, Whitman’s admirers were not any less different.

Four of the major dedications they came up with are the following:

  1. The Celebration of Walt Whitman’s Birthday, May 31
  2. The Whitman Collection
  3. Mazinaw Rock
  4. The Stuffed Canary

May 31st

Like all true fans, one must know their idol’s birthday. Becoming the most famous day within the calendar of the Boston Fellowship, May 31st, Whitman’s followers to this day, celebrate Walt Whitman’s birthday in an atmosphere of an open tea party. They pass around Whitman’s Loving Cup as a symbol of dedication and homage to Whitman. In 2008, the Whitman Fellowship celebrated 25 years of continued meetings where the celebration will continuously take place annually (“Walt Whitman and Bolton”).

Whitman's Cup

Whitman's Cup

The Whitman Collection

Even after the death of Walt Whitman, the Bolton Archive and Local Studies Services have continued to collect publications dedicated to Whitman to this day.

Mazinaw Rock

Located in Bon Echo Park, Ontario, Canada, Mazinaw Rock was a rock with an inscription dedicated to Walt Whitman to celebrate the Centenary of his birth in 1919. The inscription reads as thus: “’Old Walt. 1819 – 1919 Dedicated to the democratic ideals of Walt Whitman by Horace Traubel and Flora Macdonald. ‘My Foothold is tenon’d and mortised in granite, I laugh at dissolution and I know the amplitude of time’.”

Mazinaw Rock

Mazinaw Rock

The Stuffed Canary

Last but not least, one of Whitman’s highly prized devotion was for his pet, canary. The bird was stuffed following its death, and now a spot in the Whitman Collection at Bolton Museum, the largest archive outside the United States.

The Actual Stuffed Canary

The Actual Stuffed Canary

Whitman had even dedicated a poem to his canary, which was published on March 2, 1888 in the New York Herald:


My Canary Bird

Did we count great, O soul, to penetrate the themes of mighty books,
Absorbing deep and full from thoughts, plays, speculations?
But now from thee to me, caged bird, to feel thy joyous warble,
Filling the air, the lonesome room, the long forenoon,
Is it not just as great, O soul?

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)




Works Cited

Reynolds, David S.  Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

“Walt Whitman and Bolton.” Bolton Museum and Archive Service. Bolton Council. 10 June 2009 <>.

“With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Spirituality, Sex and Socialism in a Northern Mill Town.”  Little Northern Books <>.

Jennica for October Fifteen

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny and walt at 9:50 am on Thursday, October 15, 2009


Since I get the honor of breathing in Whitman not once, but twice a week, yesterday, for my Whitman class #1 we digested semiotic analysis— a type of critical theory that involves a system of signs. Not only does this critical analysis interest me, but when I read “Two Rivulets” by Walt Whitman, the theory stood out even more. For instance, observe Whitman’s “Two Rivulets” with semiotics in mind:

Two Rivulets side by side, 
Two blended, parallel, strolling tides, 
Companions, travelers, gossiping as they journey. 
For the Eternal Ocean bound, 
These ripples, passing surges, streams of Death and Life,
Object and Subject hurrying, whirling by, 
The Real and Ideal, 
Alternate ebb and flow the Days and Nights, 
(Strands of a Trio twining, Present, Future, Past.) 
In You, whoe’er you are, my book perusing,
In I myself—in all the World—these ripples flow, 
All, all, toward the mystic Ocean tending. 
(O yearnful waves! the kisses of your lips! 
Your breast so broad, with open arms, O firm, expanded shore!)

If you notice, there are not only signs that symbolize for something. But in one of the process for performing semiotics,
one must look for contradictions and/or binaries. Look once more at the poem above and try to see if you can find any
sets of binaries or opposites. For instance, there are several: "streams of Death and Life," "Object and Subject,"
"The Real and Ideal," "Days and Nights," "Future, Past."

However, what's even more interesting is that Whitman begins with parallelism and sameness: 
Two Rivulets side by side, 
Two blended, parallel, strolling tides, 
Companions, travelers, gossiping as they journey. 

I think one of the beauties of Whitman's poems is his use of contradictions and oppositions,
but what's even more amazing is how he makes those binaries into balance and parallelism.
Because if you think about it, oppositions such as night and day, death and life, etc. are what
gives balance and keep the world in equilibrium... Amazing.

Jennica for October Eight

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny and walt at 12:14 am on Thursday, October 8, 2009

After reading through Drum-Taps and Memories of President Lincoln, one of the poems that caught my attention was “Delicate Cluster.” Though many, if not all, were dedicated to the war, this poem in particular made me curious as to whom the work was truly dedicated to. The last line intrigued me the most:

Delicate Cluster

DELICATE cluster! flag of teeming life!
Covering all my lands —all my seashores lining!
Flag of death! (how I watch’d you through the smoke of battle pressing!
How I heard you flap and rustle, cloth definant!)
Flag cerulean —sunny flag, with the orbs of night dappled!
Ah my silvery beauty —ah my woolly white and crimson!
Ah to sing the song of you, my matron might!
My sacred one, my  mother.
(Whitman 454)

If you read the poem, clearly on the surface, it seems like Whitman is showing his love, dedication, and reverence towards the American flag. I loved all of his different usage of descriptions in describing the flag. It is teeming, full of life; yet, at the same time, a “[f]lag of death.” (I just love his uses of contradictions.) The flag is also decorated in “cerulean,” “orbs of night dappled” with “silvery beauty” in “woolly white and crimson.” Last but not least, the great American flag is Whitman’s “matron mighty.” However, Whitman finishes off by calling the flag his “sacred one,” his “mother.”

This puzzles, yet interests me the most. At first, when I read the poem, I automatically assumed that either the flag would be an “it” or at least, male. (Could this be the work of cultural/political brainwash done to me? Sadly I have automatically assumed the flag to be male instead of female.. Feminists, please spare me..) But Whitman surprisingly personifies the flag as female. Better yet, his mother. Now I read the poem a second time. Then a third. Then I realized how Whitman somehow personifies the flag as female. For instance, diction such as “teeming life,” “seashores lining,” “orbs of night dappled,” “silvery beauty,” “woolly white and crimson.” If you think about it, these words do resonate well with females. However, in Whitman’s case, the woman is strong, mighty, and a warrior.

But what I really want to know is what underlying connections might he have had with his mother…

Jennica’s Second Frontispiece

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny and walt at 3:52 pm on Monday, October 5, 2009

Heaven and Hell

“The pleasures of heaven are with me, and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself . . . . the latter I translate into a new tongue” (46)


As Whitman also inscribes within these lines, life can often shed moments of heaven and hell at the same time. How, you ask? Well, take a look at the picture above for instance. It may seem like a mere snapshot of a couple grown adults with a bunch of children. However, have you thought of what might be there beneath these smiles? In fact, if you take an even more meticulous look, notice how most of the kids are not smiling. Perhaps, one or two of them may be staring at you with a rather weak grin. These faces who are staring at you from your computer screen as we speak are a few of the many lost, abandoned children of South Korea.

This past summer, I flew to Korea for the first time and spent about three months eating, sleeping, and teaching English to orphans from remote areas of South Korea. Technically, I was asked to teach them English. However, after a couple weeks living and breathing with them under one roof, I ended up teaching them more than mere English. I taught them self-confidence, self-esteem, survival skills. But that wasn’t all. I wasn’t the only teacher there. They taught me life.

We ended up teaching each other life. Humanity.

If you wonder what it’s like to experience heaven and hell in one particular space and time, try flying  yourself to an orphanage and look into the eyes of one lost child. (Apparently, I think I’m beginning to sound like some sort of quack advertiser for a junk product…) but really, you’d feel heaven through these kids’ smiles and laughter. Then a moment later, hell, through their tears, empty eyes and fake laughter.

This picture was the day I had to leave Korea. As the child I am holding hands with looks up and asks me, “Mommy, where are you going,” at this moment in time, I’d say was one of the epitomes of Hell-experiences I’ve had to face in my life.

Jennica for October One

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny and walt at 8:51 am on Thursday, October 1, 2009

The readings for the first of October were certainly things I have never read for any other previous October firsts’.

And just when I thought Whitman knew what he was talking about when he touches his pen to his paper…

Now I’m beginning to think, does he really know what he’s talking about? Does he really “think” before he writes? Or was he just a horny beast during the time he wrote Children of Adam and Calamus? I can see his true, honest, maybe too-honest, open respects and appreciation for the body and how the body works, but never have I read more of a porn in a book known to have been produced in the 19th century.

Since it was pretty much hard to find anything not related to sex or …more sex…  in these readings, I will simply comment on one of the poems from one of his greatest works (C.o.A.):

O Hymen! O Hymenee!

O HYMEN!  O hymenee! why do  you tantalize me thus?
O why sting me for a swift moment only?
Why can you not continue? O why do you now cease?
Is it because if you continued beyond the swift moment  you would sonn certainly kill me?

At first, I told myself: no, he can’t be serious. He couldn’t have seriously written something about the hymen… a complete poem dedicated to a female organ? So I did some research. I looked up the word on OED and there were a couple definitions.

The first definition stated:

1. In Greek and Roman mythology: The god of marriage, represented as a young man carrying a torch and veil. Hymen’s band, etc., marriage, wedlock. Hymen’s temple, fane, etc., the church at which a marriage is solemnized.
2. Marriage; wedlock; wedding, nuptials. Now rare.
3. A wedding-hymn, hymeneal song. rare.

That’s the first part. The second definition would be the more well-known today:

1. Anat. The virginal membrane, a fold of mucous membrane stretched across and partially closing the external orifice of the vagina.

So there it is. A whole poem dedicated to just the hymen. If we look at the two different definitions we know Whitman wasn’t (I think) talking about the god of marriage or a wedlock. He seems to be talking about the female organ. However, there is something unique about this poem. Although he’s talking about the latter definition, the way in which he presents his piece is in a song-like or ode, even, to a Greek god.

Anyhow, here is a picture of the Greek god of marriage, Hymen, and Eros:

Greek Marriage protector and guardian of fidelity.

Greek Marriage protector and guardian of fidelity.

“hymen1.” OED Online. 2nd ed 1989. Oxford University Press. <>.

“hymen2.” OED Online. 2nd ed 1989. Oxford University Press. <>.

Whitman’s “war-paralysis” through Erkkila

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny and walt at 12:24 am on Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In the critical review, Whitman the Political Poet, Betsy Erkkila writes how Whitman had suffered from a severe paralytic stroke that also led him to be hospitalized during the war time. There is also a claim that “his stroke was at least partly a result of the psychic demons that came to haunt him during and after the war years” (Betsy 279). He had also appeared to have suffered from some sort of “shell shock” as well (Betsy 279). Reading this, it comes to my attention that maybe something may have happened to Whitman during the war time. I am curious as to what might have occured to Whitman: why would he have shown shell-shock symptoms? Could this maybe have had a more powerful affect on his writings than we imagined? Sometimes I wonder if Whitman is really a reliable writer… But then again, I wonder, is any writer a reliable writer…

Erkkila, Betsy.  Whitman the Political Poet.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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