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1. An earlier version of this chapter appeared in Breaking Bounds: Whitman and American Cultural Studies, ed. Betsy Erkkila and Jay Grossman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 92–111. I hope that this revision is less theory-driven and more closely attentive to the emotional complexities of Whit-man's social experience. References to Democratic Vistas are to the edition given in the Citation Note. [BACK]

2. For an overview of motherist movements, see Elaine Tuttle Hansen,Mother Without Child: Contemporary Fiction and the Crisis of Motherhood (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). She summarizes “the prolific and still growing feminist critique of motherhood that has evolved over the past three decades” (p. 5). [BACK]

3. See Henry Clarke Wright, The Empire of the Mother Over the Character

and Destiny of the Race (Boston: B. Marsh, 1863). As the feminist historian Mary Ryan explains in her similarly named book, The Empire of the Mother: American Writing about Domesticity 1830–1860 (New York: Haworth Press, 1982), “Despite the incongruity between the domestic mystique and the realities of an industrializing society, the cult of the mother's empire continued to gain converts during the 1850s. Even the fledgling women's rights movement suc-cumbed to its seductions. This process is illustrated by the women's rights jour-nal founded by Amelia Bloomer and titled, ominously, The Lily. In its early issues, The Lily printed adamant proposals for sexual equality, and sarcastically reviewed the ‘namby pamby sort of articles on women and wives.’ By the mid-1850s, however, The Lily enthusiastically endorsed a thoroughly domestic im-age of woman: ‘Not in the whole world … is there a character as heroic as the home mother.’ While she was to remain in her isolated domestic sphere, the ideal woman was invested with incomparable power. The Lily maintained that ‘Without home, without the domestic relations, the love, the cares, the responsibilities which bind men's hearts to the one treasury of their precious things, the world would be a chaos, without order, or beauty; without patriotism, or social regulation, without public or private virtue’” (pp. 111–12). Part of Whitman would have agreed. [BACK]

4. Sacvan Bercovitch refers to Democratic Vistas as Whitman's “towering state-of-the-covenant address,” yet he argues that the work “has proved disap-pointing as political or social commentary because it is a work of symbolic inter-pretation. Its terms are doomsday or millennium.” He further notes that a “de-termination not to surrender the dream, because the dream was the only option to despair, informs Whitman's work.” See The American Jeremiad (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978), p. 198. [BACK]

5. Democratic Vistas was based on three installments that Whitman com-pared to a “serial story” (Corr 2:33). His “small volume in prose” was issued as an eighty-four page pamphlet in 1870, though the title page read 1871 (Corr 2:100). There was a new introduction for this edition. For additional publica-tion history, see Edward F. Grier, “Walt Whitman, The Galaxy, and Democratic Vistas,American Literature 23, no. 3 (November 1951): 322–50. For “Shoot-ing Niagara: And After?” see Thomas Carlyle, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, ed. H. D. Traill, 5 vols. (New York: Scribner's, 1901), 5:1–48. [BACK]

6. The quote is from F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941), p. 591. [BACK]

7. Carlyle, “Shooting Niagara,” pp. 7, 5. [BACK]

8. Whatever her virtues, the Dark Mother in “Lilacs” perpetuates a sexist as-sociation between the womanly and the unworldly. Even if to capitulate to the Real power of the mother is to escape from the artificially structured and psy-chologically coercive male symbolic order, this capitulation does not effectively challenge gender or racial binaries. The mystical Dark Mother emerges as that which is not-language. Ironically, then, Whitman's democratic elegy in some mea-sure reproduces the system of gendered and racialized thinking that he intends to unsettle. [BACK]


9. For a reading of this passage that draws attention to its historical evasiveness while concentrating on the decomposing materiality of the (presumably white) corpse, see Timothy Sweet, Traces of War: Poetry, Photography, and the Crisis of the Union (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), pp. 75–76. Sweet observes that the scene “is conceived in such a way as to demonstrate that effacing the history of death in war and achieving the ideological signifi-cance that makes sense of death in war are a single operation.” [BACK]

10. James McPherson, The Negro's Civil War: How American Negroes Felt and Acted During the War for the Union (New York: Pantheon, 1965), pp. ix–x;Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 35. [BACK]

11. Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (1955; reprint, New York: New York University Press, 1967), pp. 444–45. [BACK]

12. Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (New York: Harper, 1980), p. 194. [BACK]

13. Several years later he was to break with his champion William Douglas O'Connor, author of the pugilistic “Good Gray Poet,” over just this issue. Dur-ing the heated presidential campaign of 1872 in which Horace Greeley vied openly for the black vote, O'Connor accused Whitman of bigotry. Whitman, who was supporting Grant, responded recklessly, and the damage was done. The friends did not speak again for more than a decade, though Whitman ex-tended his hand when they met by chance on the street the following day. For the most thorough study of the Whitman-O'Connor relationship, see Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman's Champion: William Douglas O'Connor (College Sta-tion: Texas A & M University Press, 1978). For the view that erotic complications determined the rupture, see David Cavitch, My Soul and I: The Inner Life of Walt Whitman (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), pp. 173–85.

On slaveowning in Whitman's family background, see Justin Kaplan, Walt Whitman: A Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980), pp. 131–32, and Al-len, Solitary Singer, p. 15. On family attitudes toward African Americans, see also George Washington Whitman, Civil War Letters, ed. Jerome M. Loving (Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 1975), pp. 4–5, 127, 156, and passim. In the late 1880s, when Horace Traubel was questioning Whitman about his racial attitudes, he conceded, “After all I may have been tainted a bit, just a little bit, with the New York feeling with regard to anti-slavery” (WWWC 3:76). [BACK]

14. “The Radicals in Council,” in I Sit and Look Out: Editorials from the Brooklyn Daily Times by Walt Whitman, ed. Emory Holloway and Vernolian Schwarz (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), pp. 45–46. [BACK]

15. Needless to say, women today continue to negotiate these issues. In the state of Washington in 1992, where I was then living and working, Senator Patty Murray was elected as “just a mom in tennis shoes.” She proudly adopted this slogan after it had been derisively coined by a male colleague in the Washington legislature. But when it was announced early in her Senate term that Murray had canceled her appointments for a day to stay home with a sick child, several of my hardworking “mom” colleagues at the University of Washington were indig-nant. They didn't cancel classes when their children had the flu; why should she? [BACK]


16. Robert Weisbuch, “Whitman's Personalism, Arnold's Culture,” in Atlan-tic Double-Cross: American Literature and British Influence in the Age of Emer-son (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 85. [BACK]

17. See Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Econ-omy’ of Sex,” reprinted in The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory, ed. Linda Nicholson (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 27–62. [BACK]

18. Joanne Feit Diehl, “From Emerson to Whitman,” Women Poets and the American Sublime (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 11. [BACK]

19. M. Wynn Thomas observes that “in Democratic Vistas Whitman ex-plicitly compares destructive natural forces with widespread social upheaval in terms of their disruptive effects on human life.” For a fuller discussion of Whit-man's “dissenting anger,” jeering tone, and generalized violent impulse, see The Lunar Light of Whitman's Poetry (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 24, 6–7, and passim. Thomas, however, is uncomfortable with what he calls “the peculiarities of Whitman's own psychology” and suggests that Whitman “is accurately recording objective features of contemporary social relationships” (pp. 19, 20). [BACK]

20. See Christopher Newfield, “The Politics of Male Suffering: Masochism and Hegemony in the American Renaissance,” Differences 1, no. 3 (fall 1989): 55–87. He argues that “the first half of the nineteenth century seems to find white American men in a protracted celebration of aggressive masculinity,” but that “aggression is only half the story.” [BACK]

21. For a lovely reading of “There Was a Child Went Forth” in the context of family poems, see Stephen Gould Axelrod, in Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), pp. 59–61. He describes the illusion of self-sufficiency as a “harmful self-deception.” [BACK]

22. See Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (New York: Random House, 1983), pp. 185–86. [BACK]

23. For a reading of this poem in the context of nineteenth-century eugenics, see M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Whitman's Poetry of the Body (Chapel Hill: Uni-versity of North Carolina Press, 1989), pp. 62–65. He suggests that “enfolding and effusing—the actions of the female genitalia—become the model for ideal creative power,” but does not fully persuade himself that this is the case. More generally, in the chapter “Procreation and Perfectibility: 1856,” Killingsworth argues that “Whitman's woman—rather than developing fully as the archetypal model for creative power—becomes something of a cog in the eugenic machine” (p. 73). [BACK]

24. See, for example, the gigantic, but also consumptive new-world spirit-mother who suffers from breast cancer in “Thou Mother with Thy Equal Brood,” an 1872 poem in which “The livid cancer spread its hideous claws, clinging upon thy breasts, seeking to strike thee deep within” (LG, p. 460). De-scribing this “Emblem of general maternity lifted above all, / Sacred shape of the bearer of daughters and sons,” out of whose “teeming womb … giant babes in ceaseless procession issu[e],” Whitman writes, “I but thee name, thee prophesy, as now, / I merely thee ejaculate!” (LG, pp. 458–59). [BACK]

25. Newfield, “The Politics of Male Suffering,” p. 56. [BACK]

26. Alicia Ostriker, “Loving Walt Whitman and the Problem of America,”

in The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman: The Life After the Life, ed. Rob-ert K. Martin (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992), p. 227. See also Mi-chael Moon's superb reading, which emphasizes Whitman's nongeneric use of the word “men,” as well as his devaluation of women who are not mothers, in Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Corporeality in “Leaves of Grass” (Cam-bridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), p. 78. [BACK]

27. D. H. Lawrence, “Whitman,” in A Century of Whitman Criticism, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969), p. 157. [BACK]

28. Betsy Erkkila, Whitman the Political Poet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 258–59. [BACK]

29. Betsy Erkkila, The Wicked Sisters: Women Poets, Literary History, and Discord (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 4. [BACK]

30. Ostriker, “Loving Walt Whitman,” p. 227. [BACK]

31. Robert Leigh Davis, Whitman and the Romance of Medicine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), pp. 75, 44. [BACK]

32. Sandra M. Gilbert, “The American Sexual Poetics of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson,” in Reconstructing American Literary History, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), pp. 130–31. Gilbert views Whitman as the more socially conservative writer. [BACK]

33. Adrienne Rich, “The Eye of the Outsider: Elizabeth Bishop's Complete Poems 1927–1979,” in Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979–1985 (New York: Norton, 1986), p. 131. The context for her remark is a critique of Bishop's “Songs for a Colored Singer.” [BACK]

34. See Edward Carpenter, Days with Walt Whitman: With Some Notes on his Life and Work (London: George Allen, 1906), p. 43. “Sloane Kennedy” was the journalist William Sloane Kennedy, who published “A Study of Whitman” in 1881. [BACK]

35. The classic nineteenth-century feminist appreciation of Whitman is by Gilchrist—his most influential contemporary woman reader. For a useful study of Gilchrist's often tormented life, see Marion Walker Alcaro, Walt Whitman's Mrs. G: A Biography of Anne Gilchrist (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991). [BACK]

36. Quotations in this paragraph are from Emily Dickinson, The Letters of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard Univer-sity Press, 1958), 2:404, 649, 475, 405. [BACK]

37. See Willis J. Buckingham, Emily Dickinson's Reception in the 1890s: A Documentary History (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989), p. 280 and passim. [BACK]

38. The quotation is from “The Death of Abraham Lincoln,” in Complete Poetry and Collected Prose, p. 1046. [BACK]

39. See Walter H. Eitner, “Emily Dickinson's Awareness of Whitman: A Re-appraisal,” Walt Whitman Review 22, no. 3 (September 1976): 111–15; and Karl Keller, “The Sweet Wolf Within: Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman,” in The Only Kangaroo among the Beauty: Emily Dickinson and America (Balti-more: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), pp. 251–93. [BACK]

40. Susan Gilbert Dickinson, quoted in Millicent Todd Bingham,Emily Dick-inson: A Revelation (New York: Harper, 1954), p. 59. [BACK]


41. Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in her Letters, Diary and Reminiscences, ed. Theodore Stanton and Harriet Stanton Blatch, 2 vols. (New York: Harper, 1902), 2:210. [BACK]

42. See my discussion of this poem in chapter 4, in which I offer a less famil-iar reading. [BACK]

43. Frances Wright, quoted in M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Whitman's Poetry of the Body (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), p. 66. [BACK]

44. Whitman did not change “semitic” to “seminal” until 1871, when he also revised “By Blue Ontario's Shore” to read “his seminal muscle” (LG, p. 344). See also the reference to the greatest poet's “semitic muscle” in the 1855 “Pref-ace” (LG 1855, p. 21). For a reading of Whitman that preserves the association between semen and breast milk, see Sharon Olds, “Nurse Whitman,” in Satan Says (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980), p. 13. [BACK]

45. The classic account of this ideology is Barbara Welter, “The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820–1860” (1966), reprinted in her Dimity Convictions: The American Woman in the Nineteenth Century (Athens: Ohio State Uni-versity Press, 1976). The opposing ideology of Real Womanhood is set forth in Frances B. Cogan, All-American Girl: The Ideal of Real Womanhood in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989).

Both Erkkila, in Whitman the Political Poet, pp. 257–59, and Sherry Ceniza, in “Walt Whitman and Abby Price,” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 7, no. 2 (fall 1989): 51–52, describe Whitman's women as moving out of the home rather than remaining confined within it. Erkkila makes the valuable point that the conflict between Whitman's emphasis on the power of motherhood and his admiration for women such as “Frances Wright, George Sand, Margaret Fuller, Anne Gilchrist, Lucretia Mott, and Delia Bacon—all women who had chal-lenged traditional women's roles”—is “a contradiction at the root not only of nineteenth-century American culture but of feminism itself” (pp. 315–16). [BACK]

46. “Clef Poem” was retitled “On the Beach at Night Alone” in 1871, but Whitman was already reworking the nipple-tasting lines in 1860. They were altered to read, “I suppose the pink nipples of the breasts of women with whom I shall sleep will touch the side of my face the same, / But this is the nip-ple of a breast of my mother, always near and always divine to me, her true child and son, whatever comes” (LG 1860, p. 230). The entire passage was aban-doned in 1867. [BACK]

47. See John Gatta, American Madonna: Images of the Divine Woman in Literary Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). Among the writers he considers are Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harold Frederic, Henry Adams, and T. S. Eliot. [BACK]

48. “Free Academies at Public Cost,” in I Sit and Look Out, pp. 53–54. For an account of Whitman's quarrel with Fern, which accuses him of blatant sex-ism, see Joyce W. Warren, Fanny Fern: An Independent Woman (New Bruns-wick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992). For a critique of this account, see Sherry Ceniza, review of Fanny Fern: An Independent Woman, Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 11, no. 2 (fall 1993): 89–95. [BACK]

49. “The Death of Abraham Lincoln,” in Complete Poetry and Collected Prose, p. 1046. [BACK]

50. “The Death of Abraham Lincoln,” p. 1046. [BACK]

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