Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Whitman, "Out of the Cradle..." & "As I Ebb'd..."

--This is the frontispiece of the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass from which the poems for next class come; bushy-bearded and greying, Whitman is less the "working-man poet" of 1855.

--"Out of the Cradle..." tells a story of the poet's childhood, an experience of nature that seemingly initiates him into poetry, but it is not a triumphant or happy story, but a sad one of death and loss. How does death initiate Whitman into poetry in this poem? How does this present a different vision of nature's lesson for the romantics than what we've seen before?

--In "As I Ebb'd..." Whitman presents himself in a moment of doubt and despair and finds a corollary to himself in the beach he walks upon, a notable counterpart to the grass of "Song of Myself." What does the beach say as a symbolic commentary about Whitman the poet?

--In general, the 1860 poems mark a different view of Whitman: no longer heroically self-assertive, but doubting, grieving, self-questioning. Do you like this persona more or less than the earlier vision of the confident national bard embodying all?


  1. “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” is a much more pessimistic poem than we have read so far from Walt Whitman. This was probably because the country was on the verge of a war and Whitman’s outlook may have become darker. It is easy to see how Whitman’s optimistic nature has changed as one reads the poem. Particularly, Whitman’s vision of nature seems to have drastically changed. He focuses much more on the mortality of nature rather than using it to teach his readers lessons on the wonders of nature. And through this focus on nature’s mortality, he writes about human mortality. The second to last stanza really demonstrates this. Whitman writes about how death is slowly creeping towards him and it has been ever since he was a child. Whitman turns nature’s lesson in this poem into a lesson on mortality.

  2. I definitely enjoyed the doubting, grieving, self-questioning persona of Whitman more so than his self-assertive. And maybe that’s just the pessimist in me, but these works were more relatable and realistic. While it’s wonderful to be so self-assured and confident, the reality is that most people don’t perceive themselves in that way, and when one, Whitman, present himself in that manner, tends to either uplift, or in my case, irritate the readers.
    For example, throughout the entire poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Whitman describes the beautiful scenery and, what he thinks to be, a shared experience with all those aboard. I know that when I’m commuting to work and/or school, I’m not observing my surroundings or thinking of what a wonderful experience I’m sharing with those around me, I’m more concerned with what work needs to be done once I arrive at my destination. Then in Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, he speaks many times of death, which is something that everyone either has or will deal with at some point. Although it is a more depressing subject, it is something that just about everyone can relate to, and made the poem more interesting, for me.

    --Emily Miller

  3. Although I would not say this is the first time Whitman has expressed uncertainty in his poetry, I believe that "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life" is the first time he gives the reader a sense of doubt for the future. Usually he welcomes the unknown of what's to come with a curious excitement, in this poem he seems more weary and pessimistic.

    In comparison to the last time Whitman used the beach setting, he is once again using it as a place of solitude and self reflection. This time it has a much darker and sadder tone than its first presentation, something that surprised me with his work. As Shannon stated with “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” I think "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life" is a question of morality as well. He seems to be more intrusive to his own existence than we have seen in his earlier work, something that he may have obtained as he grew older.

  4. I was definitely taken aback while reading these poems at the somewhat dramatic change in Whitman's tone and overall emotion. I think this dark, more broody is something I'm more comfortable with, as I was a little put off by the earlier more arrogant, all-encompassing poems. While I understand the idea of writing about how everyone is connected and the same, the concept of a poet speaking for me, or assuming to know me was frustrating for me.
    In these later poems Whitman seems to be focusing more on himself, and as a reader I appreciate that. It allows me to make my own connections to Whitman's experiences and thoughts. This, of course, is just a personal experience though. While I prefer not to read poetry that loudly proclaims its connection or importance to me, I can see how his earlier, happier poetry may be more appealing to other readers.

  5. I enjoyed and felt like I could relate to the exuberant, self-celebrating Whitman; "Song of Myself" encapsulated a recognition of the spiritual and mental vitality of man and a sense of wonder at the miraculousness of the human body that I have been sporadically familiar with in my own life. As brief as it has been, I have felt those moments of connection with the world. However, I think I like the doubting, melancholy Whitman more.“Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” despite following a more conventional story-like structure, seems somehow rawer. Here Whitman faces mortality and seems to mourn for a life not yet finished. His language is lonely and morose; the face of unavoidable loss peeks out behind the corners of his words. Whitman depicts himself in the midst of an unwinnable battle: “throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves” (2268). He can no more win against death than he can against the sand or the water, yet he cannot help but rage. He's not ready to go.

  6. I have to admit, I was very fond of the earlier vision of Walt Whitman's persona. I do not feel that he was self-absorbed or arrogant in any way, I think he rather uses the word "I" to help the reader relate to what he's writing, or to show a certain familiarity with his readers. For instance, he uses the phrase "I, too" a lot in his poetry and it doesn't make me think he's talking about himself, but instead I think he's trying to show how the being in the poem can relate to different things.

    Now, I'm not saying the dark, dreary mood of the poems isn't excellent poetry to read too, but I prefer the Walt Whitman who finds beauty and complexity in rhisome grass, and can make something that seems so simple, something so complex.

  7. Whitman's earlier poems make him sound kind of like a hippie. They're all about embracing the body, and how we're all the same and should love each other. 1860's Whitman seems to have grown up a little bit. None of his earlier poems really touched on death. “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” sounds like he just lost someone close to him for the first time and is trying to grieve. In “As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life” he seems to be coming to grips with his own insignificance in the grand scheme of things.
    I thought that the tone of his earlier poems was too lighthearted to go with the picture of him on the front. The tone of his later poems seems to suit him better. I like his newer poems better than his old stuff, but I think that his older work sounded more poetic. His older poems used a lot more alliteration, consonance, and assonance than his newer poems, and seemed to have more of a rhythm to them.

  8. In “As I Ebb’d…” we are definitely seeing a new side of Whitman that we haven’t really seen before. With statements he makes, he appears very self-conscious and unsure of who he actually is. He presents the beach and ocean as this kind of bully, which is also uncertain of what it actually is. With statements such as, “Nature here in sight of the sea taking advantage of me to dart upon me and sting me,” (2273) he seems scared of the possibilities of what this form of nature is capable of doing to him. If Whitman is in fact comparing himself to the ocean, it almost seems as though he doesn’t really trust himself. Another statement he makes, “withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and blows,” (2273) adds to this idea that the ocean/beach is acting as a bully on Whitman or perhaps he sees himself as a bully. This could be referencing his earlier poems such as “Song of Myself” where he took such liberty in proclaiming how every American felt or could feel, and he may be realizing that some people could have seen him as overzealous in his statements. He also seems to suggest that the ocean does nothing but produce trash upon the beach with statements like, “I too am but a trail of drift and debris,” (2273). With statements like this Whitman doesn’t seem to believe in himself at all anymore. It’s almost like he has lost all of his self-esteem that was so prevalent in “Song of Myself.”

    --jessica schuster

  9. Whitman's transformation into a self-doubting, unsure poet, as shown in the two poems we read for class today,sadly brings me down. We should not be surprised that with age Whitman began tempering his words with the reality of his mortal condition. With the questioning of that condition comes the self-doubt ("I perceive I have not really understood any thing, not a single object, and / that no man ever can" [Whitman "As I Ebb'd..." lines 32-3]), leaving Whitman much like many other poets, questioning their own relevance ("...amid all that blab...I have / not once had the least idea who or what I am" ["as I Ebb'd" lines 27-8]).After reading from "Leaves of Grass" this poetry is a Debbie-downer, showing us the frailty of an aging poet's opinion of himself and the world in relation to himself. Whitman has always been self-centered in his poetry, which, when he was younger, was refreshing youthful exuberance. In these poems though, Whitman has forsaken his confidence and positive tone for a more unsure demeanor and somber,aged tone. Overall I do not like how Whitman seemingly gave up on his original views because he is older and doubting his earlier ideas.