So, in the waning minutes of this semester, I realized that I had not yet written about our first field trip.
Since I did my final project on a revolutionary, Jose Marti, the memory of standing behind the wall on Sunken Road that the Confederate soldiers used has been on my mind aÂ lot. Just imagining thousands of young soldiers lying dead was a very powerful image and really brought Whitman’s post-battle descriptions home to me. And it would not have beenÂ those whom we consider “the goodÂ guys”Â lying on the ground in front ofÂ Sunken Road. It was aÂ deathtrap for Union soldiers.Â For me, thatÂ contributed toÂ an alreadyÂ very powerful image that can easily be applied to aÂ revolution and, in light of my recent research and writing, made the weight of Jose Marti’s ideas apparent.
During his life, Marti was calling his fellow countrymen to revolt against Spanish rule over Cuba. Even though Spain was weak compared to the other major European powers at that time, they far outstripped the military strength of the Cuban forces. When he said that he wanted his people to fight with him, Marti knew that he was potentially putting them in the same situation as the Union soldiers were in at Fredericksburg. They were the people who we consider the ‘good guys.’ They were fighting against colonial tyranny. It just casts war in a whole new light to go to a battlefield.
Â Â Â Â The readings for this week were incredible. I have to admit that, after listening to Ginsbergâs recitation of Howl (the first time I had ever heard that poem recited, much less by the writer), I texted Chelsea and said âI feel like Ginsberg just danced flamenco on my brain with cleats.â Just so everyone knows :-).
Â Â Â Â Anyway, for this weekâs question about Whitmanâs influence, I decided to focus on Robert Lowellâs For the Union Dead. In it, I think the poet takes a very balanced approach to Whitman. Lowell is not blind to the faults of Whitman: For the Union Dead observes the latent, awkward racism that has been a characteristic of both Whitman and the states throughout their years. However, a very Whitmanic idea about the necessity of memory is also beautifully articulated. The Whitman that shines through in Lowellâs poem is the emotive spirit of the country that struggles to survive in a time that often emphasizes utility over beauty.
Â Â Â Â So, first things first, to get the less fun things out of the way: Whitman was not above racism. Weâve read stuff both in and out of class about it and, even though it hurts, itâs true. Lowellâs description of the relief of the African-American soldiers as ââŠ a fishbone / in the cityâs throatâ expresses the nature of the racism in both Whitman and the United States very well. It is not too difficult for a city board to approve a mural depicting the heroics of long-dead former slaves, just as Whitman was able to write about his empathy for slaves in the comfort of his own room. Thatâs the meat of the fish, the good taste of stepping outside the box.
Â Â Â Â Unfortunately, it is when the perspective shifts from the idealized to the personal that the unexpected and uncomfortable bone reveals itself. To the father of Colonel Shaw, the soldiers that fought and died with his son are less than human, a regiment of individual men all summed up in one word, and were so thoughtless that they did not even allow him the courtesy of burying his heroic progeny. According to our Higgins reading for this week, one of the fish bones for Whitman was the Fifteenth Amendment. An imagined slave was virtuous enough to warrant praise, but a real-life African-American was not trustworthy enough to be included in the countryâs body of voters. I believe that this racism reinforces the importance of memory that Lowellâs speaker emphasizes.
Â Â Â Â A recurring idea in For the Union Dead is the return of the repressed. Even though the museum housing primitive animals has been knocked down, âyellow dinosaur steamshovelsâ still populate the land. Even though the overt monument to the animal kingdom has been destroyed, âEverywhere, / giant finned cars nose forward like fish.â People are trying to forget their less-civilized roots, but they continue to manifest themselves. That applies to the cityâs racism; they try to drown out the memory with a mural. That forgetfulness is what perpetuates the problem though: those that do not remember the less-than-savory aspects of history are doomed to repeat them.
Â Â Â Â The pathetic substitute for a World War II monument, the advertisement for Mosler Safe Company, illustrates both the necessity for memory and the disturbing lack of it. The inspiration for the ad is nothing less than the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, a most grave subject that must never be forgotten. However, instead of reminding passersby of the horrific nature of war, the picture emphasizes what was preserved through the atomic blast. There is no mention of the thousands that died, both immediately and later on, because of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The positive spin of the ad might make an unwary pedestrian wonder if the bomb was really that bad after all. Apply the ripple effect, and eventually the resulting callousness might result in an atomic bombing that was taken too lightly.
Â Â Â Â Whitman saw his Memoranda notes as a necessity, preserving the memory of what the unsung foot soldiers suffered through during the Civil War so that their lives, and hopefully the lives of future soldiers, would not be uselessly thrown away by disconnected generals with a romantic view of war. It is a personal perspective that stands in contrast to the afore-mentioned racism and exposes it for the terrible idea that it is. The capitalistic call for utilitarianism would do away with these difficult memories, in the name of efficiency and the bottom line, but Whitman is the yawp that demands their remembrance. While he was not above reproach himself, Whitman is the voice that calls us to move beyond our obstacles by going through them instead of around them.
Â Â Â Â I am going to do my best to answer this weekâs question of âhow should we read Leaves of Grassâ through the poem that I decided to read for this week: Passage to India. Passage to India hits on what is both one of the strengths of LoG and one of its potential weaknesses: the myth.
Â Â Â Â The mythic aspect of Leaves of Grass is a great strength of the work, because of the durability of the myth. The reason that we are still quoting Greek myths thousands of years after their inception is because they still resonate with our human condition, despite our societal differences. At the same time though, do those myths inspire us to action? It can be very easy for us to put those myths, and their lessons, into a case and admire them for their artistic beauty and nothing else: âO you temples fairer than lilies pourâd over by the rising sun! / O you fables spurning the known, eluding the hold of the known, mounting to heaven!â (531).
Â Â Â Â The same could very easily apply to Leaves of Grass. The poet-speaker Whitman creates is mythically larger than life, and intends to become ensconced in the collective cultural consciousness. However, the stance that he takes to inspire can distance him so much that he loses his connection to reality. Without that bridge, Leaves of Grass becomes compartmentalized as âTowers of fables immortal fashionâd from mortal dreamsâ (531).
Â Â Â Â Fortunately, Passage to India ends on a note that reaches above and beyond, but not at the expense of leaving the world behind. Whitman shows himself to be aware of the line he is walking when he writes the incredible penultimate stanza of Passage:
Â Passage, immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins!
Away O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsersâhaul outâshake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovelâd here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darkenâd and dazed ourselves with books long enough? (539)
Â The poem is aware that it can become lost in itself; because of that awareness, Whitman is able to pull the reader back into reality. In order to accomplish the unity written about in Passage to India, action is required, and action is the final imperative of the poem. I believe that it is that final awareness, the poet leaving his room and working in the hospitals, which preserves the potential for the unity that Leaves of Grass ultimately calls for.
Since weâre comparing 1892 Whitman to 1855 Whitman, I thought I would re-visit the subject of an earlier blog post of mine: âthe tale of a jetblack sunriseâ (66). Earlier in the semester, I noted Whitmanâs idealization of the frontiersman, as well as the anonymous nature of that very man: Whitmanâs ideal did not have a face. Now, in the 1892 version, the âfaceâ of the entire story is removed in an important way. The later Whitman seems to be more eager for readers to think about the poemâs speaker, rather than the subjects of the poemâs story.
Â Â Â Â In the 1855 Leaves of Grass, there are no distinct section breaks in the first, poem. Instead, there are different sections that have, throughout the years, been given unofficial names (such as the famous âtwenty-ninth batherâ vignette). In the first edition of Leaves, âthe murder in cold blood of four hundred and twelve young menâ is given the unofficial title of âthe tale of a jetblack sunriseâ (66). The name is repeated at the end of the vignette as well, giving it a very âfolk-taleâ feel.
Â Â Â Â The 1982 version of the vignette deals with titles differently. By the last edition of Leaves, the now-named Song of Myself has been divided up in fifty-two different sections. The sections, none of which have names, give the poem more of a King James Bible feeling. Of course, this fits with Whitmanâs desire to write a new sort of scripture for America to model itself after. However, the unofficial, but more distinctive, name of the vignette is lost. The events lose their connection with the weather in the new version; however, this reduction to the name of âsection 34â puts more focus on the speaker of the poem.
Â Â Â Â The only part of the 1892 version of the vignette that really differs from its earlier incarnation is the opening section. Originally, the speaker is skipped over as the subject shifts from the Alamo to our vignette: âI tell not the fall of AlamoâŠ. Not one escaped to tell the fall of Alamo, / The hundred and fifty are dumb yet at Alamo. / Hear now the tale of a jetblack sunriseâ (66). The only thing overtly emphasized about the speaker is what he does not know. The source of the story remains a mystery, and its credibility is questionable: if the speaker does not know about something as famous as the Alamo, why should the reader trust what he has to say about something far less well-known, whose location and date is not even given? In the storyâs 1892 version, the speaker comes across as far more authoritative.
Â Â Â Â In its âDeathbedâ incarnation, our story begins like this:
Now I tell what I knew in Texas in my early youth,
(I tell not the fall of Alamo,
Not one escaped to tell the fall of Alamo,
The hundred and fifty are dumb yet at Alamo,)
âTis the tale of the murder in cold blood of four hundred and twelve young men. (226).
Here, the speaker is coming from a much more authoritative place. The author knows the vignette himself, rather than having simply heard it from someone else. In fact, the word âknowâ is ambiguous enough that it could be taken to mean that the speaker witnessed these events himself. Now, with the unofficial title removed, the story has significance because the speaker has given it significance. The significance is shifted from the storyâs connection to the weather (âa jetblack sunriseâ) to its connection to the author (âWhat I knew in Texasâ) (66, 226). By 1892, the poemâs speaker has become specifically revealed as the source of knowledge, and the tale has become less nebulous. The earlier folk-tale has been replaced with a New Testament-style speaker that recounts events from earlier in his life.
So, since I have been so terrible about writing about our first field trip, here are some photos from our incredible trip yesterday:
The centerpiece of our LoC tour!
Emerson’s letter to Whitman about the 1855 edition
The good, gray poet
Lincoln’s fateful box seat
Not surprisingly, the question posed to us this week feels very appropriate, following our trip yesterday. When we were able to sit in Fordâs Theatre and look up to where Lincoln had sat, it really brought the events of that day home to us. However, they remain abstract to us in so many important ways, in ways that cannot be overcome by virtue of the fact that we were simply not there. As we looked at the wonderful artifacts laid out for us at the Library of Congress, Whitman became (I would think) much more real to us, but he still remains abstract or idealized in our minds because we simply never knew the man. I think that Whitmanâs feelings for Abe Lincoln were, like the rest of him, a âkosmos,â but that they can be understood a bit if we look through the lens of pastoral poetry.
When the question of Whitmanâs feelings for Lincoln was posed, my mind immediately jumped to consider the âCalamusâ love that weâve talked about so much. I really donât think that Lincoln would fall into that category for Uncle Walt though, and I think it can be explained both biographically and through literary analysis. Biographically speaking, Lincoln simply doesnât fit the profile of men that Whitman was interested in, at least as far as I know. Again and again, weâve read about Whitman seeking after younger men: Lincoln was about ten years older than Whitman. He would not have been the type that Whitman could nurture, which seems to have been a common thread in the poetâs love life. Building on that, Lincoln was too established of a man to fit into the anonymous mold set by Whoever you Are, Holding me Now in Hand. Whitman knew exactly who Lincoln was and what he wanted from him. Lincoln could not be nurtured because he himself was already in the position of nurturer, both as a father and as president.
With those things in mind, I contend that it is a good thing that Whitman and Lincoln never met personally. From his distant viewpoint, Whitman was able to freely paint Lincoln with the colors that he wanted to. Not to say that Lincoln was not worthy of what Whitman said of him; after all, the man did incredible things. Personal meetings have a way of bursting bubbles though: what if Lincoln had offended Whitman or, worse, not approved of him? What would have happened to the symbol that Whitman had turned Lincoln into? That being said, I think Whitmanâs feelings for Lincoln are best seen within the pastoral framework.
Obviously, Whitman and Lincoln would not fit cleanly into the traditional shepherd-shepherdess, Arcadia-occupying model. However, there are other aspects of the genre that ring true here. For one, Lincoln is a muse for Whitman: he inspires what is (for better or for worse) the manâs most well-known verse. Whitman can stand on his street corner, stare at Lincoln as he rides by, and write about the emotional turmoil that the man inspires in him.
As with the traditional shepherdesses though, Lincoln is idealized to the point of having no voice of his own. He receives Whitmanâs stares, but never answers back verbally. It can very easily be argued that Whitman is in love with the idea of Lincoln, the symbol that he makes Lincoln into, rather than the man himself. As with Dante, Petrarch, Garcilaso de la Vega, et al, and their female muses, readers are left wondering what the effect on the poetry would have been if Whitman had actually had relationships with the man whom he set up on such a pedestal. While we will never have an answer to this question, we are left with some amazing poetry, and that seems like a wonderful consolation prize to me!
MartĂ was integral in motivating Cuba to separate from Spanish rule and establish itself, so it is not surprising that he would identify with Whitman’s hopes for the United States.Â This articleÂ is very long, so I will do my best to translate the opening paragraph that reads like this in Spanish (so that Brady can correct me ):
ââHe resembled a god last night, seated in a chair of red velvet, the complete white gentleman, his beard on his stomach, his eyebrows like a forest, his hand on a staff.â This is what one of todayâs newspapers says about the poet Walt Whitman, an old man of 70 years whom theÂ most profoundÂ critics, who are always the fewest in number, give an exalted position in the literature of his country and his age. Only the sacred books of antiquity offer a comparable doctrine, through his prophetic language and robust poetry, to that of… this old poet whose astonishing book is banned.â
Â Â Â During the nineteenth century, firearm technology experienced a series of incredible technological advances. The smooth bore, round-ball musket, which had been favored for centuries of warfare, was replaced by the grooved barrels and cylindro-conical rounds of the rifle. However, during the Civil War, a middle ground between the two styles was favored by the Union army: the rifle-musket, of which Springfield and Enfield models were the most commonly-seen. These weapons, which married musket-style barrel lengths with barrel rifling, represented a leap forward in accuracy, as well as battlefield reliability. Unfortunately, battlefield tactics initially lagged behind the new technology, which meant that increasingly-accurate rifle-muskets took a heavy toll on foot soldiers deployed in archaic battle formations.
Â Â Â Â The closing years of the eighteenth century yielded an innovation in firearms technology: the digging of grooves into musket barrels. The grooves, dubbed rifling, put a spin on the discharged round: this increased the effective accurate range of the weapon. However, these weapons continued to fire round bullets until the middle of the nineteenth century. According to an article by Paul Dougherty and Major Herbert Collins, âAlthough accuracy could be improved with the use of a rifled barrel, the tit of the bullet/barrel needed to be tight to impart a spin on the projectile. This made reloading too slow for the standard military armâ (Wound Ballistics 403). Due to the requirement of being small enough to quickly slide down the rifled barrel, the accuracy of the bullets was hampered. Â However, in 1847, French officer Captain Claude Minie developed a new sort of round that seemed to solve this loading problem. He created a bullet shaped like a cylinder that tapered to a cone at the front end. The base of the bullet was hollow, which, according to historian Charles Worman, expanded âby the force of the exploding gunpowder, causing the bullet base to expand and fill and grip the rifling groovesâ (Firearms in American History 71). Harperâs Ferry assistant master armorer, and later superintendent of Confederate armories, James Burton later improved on this design, but history has given the bullet the moniker of âMinie ball.â The Minie ball essentially solved the aforementioned bullet and barrel problems and truly took advantage of barrel rifling. In the Union army during the Civil War, these advances were most often made apparent through the use of Springfield M1861 and Enfield .577 rifle-muskets.
Â Â Â Â The name of the M1861 model gives the year of the Springfield modelâs creation, but it was largely based on the companyâs M1855. Both models boasted forty inch, round barrels with three rifling grooves and shot a .58 caliber bullet. The gunâs caliber was a compromise between two previously-used sizes; .54 caliber rounds, which avoided excessive recoil but lacked accuracy, and the increased accuracy of .69 caliber rounds, which was counterbalanced by the excessive weight required for guns to be able to fire them. It could also be fitted with an intimidating triangular bayonet. However, despite contracting private gun makers produce M1861s, the Union army still faced a shortage of up-to-date firearms. For example, although Lincolnâs government contracted more than a million rifle-muskets in 1861, meaningful quantities of firearms did not begin to arrive in soldiers hands until two years later. In order to fulfill these weapon needs, muskets and rifles were purchased from a large number of foreign sources.
Â Â Â Â Of these, the British âlongâ Enfield Pattern 1853 was the most sought-after. Perhaps the secret to its success with Union soldiers stemmed from its similarities to the Springfield models: the Enfield had a thirty-nine inch, round barrel, with three grooves serving as rifling. The Enfield officially shot a .577 caliber round which, according to Louis Garavaglia and Charles Wormanâs Firearms of the American West, âwould also work in the U.S. .58 caliber rifles. Depending on actual bullet diameter, U.S. .58 caliber Minie bulletsâŠ would work in the Enfields as long as the bore was reasonably cleanâ (167). Both the Springfield and the Enfield were muzzle-loaders, meaning that a rod was required to push single rounds into place in the barrel before they could be fired.
Â Â Â Â Both the Springfield models and the Enfield expelled their single rounds with a percussion cap, described in Firearms in American History as âa small copper cup with the fulminate inside its base covered with a tin foil disk and sealed with a bit of shellac to make it waterproofâ (44). These caps worked much better in poor weather than did the previously-favored flintlock system, although some on the frontier were reluctant to abandon their tried-and-true mechanism. The individual cartridges, containing the round and necessary gunpowder, were sealed in paper. When the guns were loaded, the paper was torn open in some way and the powder was poured down the barrel. An amusing legend states that, in the early stages of the war, four good front teeth were required for enlistment. This way, the soldier would be able to quickly bite open cartridges, instead of having to open them with his fingers (Firearms in American History 109). Next, a ramrod, which had to be withdrawn and replaced, was used to shove the round down. Finally, a percussion cap was placed on the gunâs nipple, the gun was cocked, and it was ready to be fired. Firearms in American History gives the normal rate of fire for these guns as âabout three rounds per minute under good conditionsâ (109). Unfortunately, due to the powder residue left by each Minie ball, the rifle muskets would become difficult to fire after around twenty shots if they were not cleaned. Here is a video of a Civil War-era rifle was fired:
Â Â Â Â These favorable qualities contributed to the rifle-musketâs effective range far out-doing previously-favored smoothbore weapons. Unfortunately, since these forward strides had been made so close to the advent of the Civil War, the leaders on both sides did not immediately recognize the pitfalls of employing smoothbore-era military tactics in the age of Minie balls and rifled barrels. Smoothbore weapons, such as those employed in the Revolutionary War, only had an effective range of about fifty yards, according to Dougherty and Collins. In contrast, rifle-muskets had an effective range of between 500 and 1,000 yards. With that increased accuracy in mind, it is easy to see how the attrition battle of lining troops up less than 100 yards apart to shoot at one another was less effective in 1863 than in the previous century. However, mechanically speaking, these Springfield and Enfield rifle-muskets of the Civil War performed excellently in the workhorse role they were given in the war. Unfortunate for them was that the march of technology did not stop with them, and both models were soon rendered obsolete.