Sam Krieg for October 6

     I am going to focus my blog on the Song of the Banner at Daybreak, and its dialogic style. The poem has five distinct speakers (the poet, the pennant, the banner, the child, and the father), which differs from Whitman’s previously-favored format of one single speaker that occasionally speaks for others. Through the interaction between this multitude of voices, Whitman most notably shows the power of the poet to rouse people from their habits, although he notably slams those that stand against the principles he holds.

     The poet here, a very thinly disguised picture of Whitman himself (an anti-academic, the poet is at one point referred to as a “bard out of Manhattan”), is the torch-bearer for change (423). He has both the first and the last word in the poem and is able to fully articulate what is hinted at by the child and rejected by the father. The child is able to glimpse what the poet knows, and expresses a desire to follow the anti-materialist, country-spanning path of the poet, but the father’s final word overshadows his. Here, the father is the voice of people content with the establishment, those that want nothing to upset what has been built thus far. However, the father is paralyzed by that love of the establishment, so that he will not even rise up to defend it. He is paralyzed by what he sees directly in front of him, so that he is unable to see future threats that must be defended against.

     The pennant and the banner occupy similar roles, although the banner’s small size probably explains why it is the one to speak to the child and the banner speaks to the poet. The banner serves as the connection between the world of the child, which wonders “what is that in the sky beckoning to me with long finger?” and the banner that of “Demons and death then I sing” (421, 425). The banner is the recipient of the poet’s focus and seems to be dependent on the poet for direction: “Point this day [O bard out of Manhattan], leaving all the rest, to us over all—and yet we know not why, / For what are we, mere strips of cloth profiting nothing, / Only flapping in the wind?” (423). It shows Whitman’s high view of the national poet, who is able to infuse objects with meaning, including the meaning that inspires people to war. The poet does not create democracy here, but he is the force that spurs people to enjoy and defend it. He gives direction to those that dare look up from the pavement and money exchanges in front of them.

     In previous centuries, the dialogue poem had been an oft-used format that generally facilitated a discussion between the soul and the body. Generally, things came down in favor of the soul, reflecting the strong Christian influence of the time. While it’s reasonable to assume that Whitman would be on the side of the body, the answer is much grayer than that. While the poet obviously comes down on the side of the physical, with his call to arms, he also is outside of the world. He calls for a rejection of what the world deems worthwhile, such as money, while extolling the abstract idea of democracy. The poet is connected enough to sense the currents of the world, but separated enough to be in touch with the world of ideas and souls. In other words, the poet is a kosmos.

October 04 2009 07:28 pm | Uncategorized

One Response to “Sam Krieg for October 6”

  1. cirvine1965 Says:

    “The answer is much grayer than that….” Well, there’s a surprise. I think that you made some really interesting points about the Song of the Banner at Daybreak, I actually went back and read it a second time to try and pick out some of the things that you mentioned. One thing that I thought about especially after reading it the second time is the idea of the poet and the child. While I connect with the child’s longing to go against society and the directions from his father I can’t help but thing of the negative connotations of being a child. Idealistic. Immature. Incapable of taking care of themselves. I began to look at some of the negative qualities within this “Bard out of Manhattan.” Here again Whitman makes a point but shrouds it in a curtain of gray.

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