Burroughs on Whitman

I have to agree with Burroughs’ assessment of Walt Whitman. When Burroughs’ writes, “The image of Walt Whitman seems generally to have in his mind is that of the Earth,” (36). We must understand that Whitman does not offer changes to readers; he merely describes the relationship between man and nature. “Collecting I traverse the garden of the world,” (149). I think it is interesting how Whitman uses the metaphor of a garden here. In one sense, he describes Earth as a commodity for the human race because gardens are typically located near a home. Whitman expresses his personal relationship and vision of the Earth rather than attempting to explain how to change what has already taken place. However, in an earlier passage Whitman writes, “I will plant companionship,” (148). This line might offer the reader some way to find harmony for living in nature. If Whitman traverses the earth “planting companionship”, he is not looking to destroy what nature has produced. Instead, he is looking for ways to involve himself in nature.

Burroughs also states, “He corrects this false, artificial Nature, and shows me the real article, that I hail his appearance as the most important literary event of our times,” (38). This is especially important to understand when we read Whitman. It is interesting how Whitman writes about nature outside of its intrinsic beauty. “Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease,” 461). Granted, Whitman does combat the ugly side of nature with the growth of something new, but he uses the intense imagery of a “disease”. Whitman breaks free from the Romantics by ridding his poetry of the fabricated natural images. Instead, Whitman can show readers what can come of the “disease”. Burroughs assessment definitely has truth, but he cannot tell the reader how to interpret Whitman’s writings. The reader has to make up their own mind, but we have to understand that Whitman wrote about his personal relationship with nature.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. “Death-Bed” Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 116-119, 148-150, 258-264, 27-5-282, 284-293, 459-462. pub. Random House 2001

Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art Excerpt p. 26-47. pub. University of Georgia Press 2001

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