Paper Proposal: Walt Whitman’s use of language in “Birds of Passage,” “A Song of the Rolling Earth” and “Song of the Redwood-Tree,” in prescribing a moral/spiritual outlook and ecology.

I chose this topic because I really enjoy poetry and am familiar with Walt Whitman’s poems, but have never looked at it ecocritically. Poetry has a quality of describing and creating metaphor in striking ways and is frankly more exciting than some of the journalistic writing in the course pack. I found that Whitman’s text had more of an impact on me and found his references and allusions to nature more expressive while still being direct. I plan to examine Whitman’s use of language as he expounds his moral and spiritual philosophy, and how human qualities connect with, and effect, nature. Whitman’s poetry suggests an intrinsic value in nature and a “one-ness” between humans and ecological vitality. I plan on focusing on “A Song of the Rolling Earth,” “Song of the Redwood-Tree” and much of “Birds of Passage”

1. What are Whitman’s philosophical/spiritual views and how is language used to designate its relationship to nature?

2. What privileges/limitations does Whitman put on human use of the environment as a commodity? How do spiritual concerns affect consumption/use?

3. What would Whitman suggest as an ideal relationship between humans and the ecological world, what particular actions should/shouldn’t be taken?


15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by rebsheppard on October 27, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    It’s refreshing to see that a classmate is so into poetry that they’re enthused about writing a research paper on a related topic. I think that in your case, the poetry you selected features many more nuanced textual details than other works of literature in novel or expository form, so you’re going to have a bigger selection of aspects to analyze.

    I think that question 1 could provide you with a lot of research and writing material. For example, you could use a tertiary source on reading poetry as language and look at the syntax/word choice/structure of “A Song of the Rolling Earth” and describe how it creates a certain spiritual tone or carries philosophical implications.

    Good luck!

  2. Walt Whitman is definitely a great choice for a paper topic, having never looked at anything through an ecocritical lens it was interesting to read some of his poetry again.

    Another interesting point I think would be good to explore is how Whitman attributes nature with human characteristics and how that works to build the relationship between humans and nature. As well as what kind of relationship that builds (ex. the seeming submissiveness of nature in “A Song of the Rolling Earth”).

  3. Posted by thelorist on October 27, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    I think it’s great that you chose to work with Whitman, considering there is so much just within “Leaves of Grass” to work with. I agree that Whitman was fascinating to read because he finds a compelling meeting place between the poetic and the pointed. He can be very figurative and yet very direct at the same time. I like your first question, which involves language, and I think language is very important to Whitman for a number of reasons, and here is a question you may want to consider in respect to Whitman, language, your own interest in poetry, and even other writers who have commented on the matter:

    Q: “What is the importance of language in respect to one’s understanding of one’s relationship to nature as a human being? Why does Whitman believe himself to be in a special place to understand nature, because he is a poet? How does Whitman’s connection between the poet and nature reflect a tradition of writers’ / poets’ / artists’ personal sense of closeness to, and understanding of nature?”

  4. Michael,

    It sounds like you are very passionate about poetry! I think those three poems are excellent choices to analyze. I enjoy your fist question a lot because poems are very metaphorical but they also seem to have a spirituality behind them. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If I were to add another question I would ask (QUESTION 7): How does Whitman use Wilderness to get his point across? Provide specific examples.

  5. Posted by brightgirl04 on October 28, 2011 at 12:30 am

    It’s great that you have chosen to analyze poetry! I’d also hope you have made sure three poems is enough for you to write 6-8 pages on. A question I propose is:
    7. What are the ways in which Whitman’s moral/spiritual outlook is similar/different to the deep ecology perspective?

  6. You are brave for analyzing poetry! That being said i think this will make for a great paper. I like what you said about human qualities affecting nature and i think that would make for another good question to analyze.
    4. Can qualities of humanity affect nature (not just actions)?

  7. I definitely feel you on vibing with the poetry than say, more of the journalistic writing. No offense to the rest of what we’re reading, but it simply has more ART to it. I like question #3, because I am interested in the relationship between man and nature. I would be interested in maybe why Whitman chose to write in poetry. I would also be interested in expounding upon “Pent Up Aching Rivers” which is pretty squirm-worthy to discuss at first in public, but actually has much to do with where you’re going with this paper in terms of a spiritual outlook.

    8. How does the form of poetry lend itself to the spirituality of Whitman’s message?

  8. Posted by al002 on October 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Interesting topic. I am curious if you plan to ask the question/explore what ideology Whitman is proposing if he is at all? Also if any tropes are incorporated. But overall solid topic. I really liked your question “1. What are Whitman’s philosophical/spiritual views and how is language used to designate its relationship to nature?” because language is very important in poetry that this will be an very important element to your paper.

  9. […] Paper Proposal: Walt Whitman’s use of language in “Birds of Passage,” “A Son… ( […]

  10. Question two is the most important questions because it adds complexity to argument about human’s use of nature as a commodity.
    Another question: Why does Whitman choose to talk about nature through poetry instead of another form of writing, what’s the significance?

  11. Posted by lmc908 on October 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    This is a very interesting topic. For question 1 you might want to consider the fact that poetry is very subjective and so is nature, so it is intriguing that Whitman writes about nature through poetry. Would this diminish/influence his authority?

    11. Is there any direct meaning or message in a work of poetry about nature, if poetry is left to interpretation?

  12. See comment on comment for my favorite questions. Here’s my addition:

    12. How does Whitman’s use of language influence hierarchical dualisms in his work? Does he reinforce, challenge, complicate, subvert them (or any other verb you prefer) and what is at stake in this from an environmental perspective?

  13. Combating dualisms… Considering this, I think it would be interesting to look at the reflexivity of his language: how he talks about the process of writing or expression. This is a central theme in a lot of nature writing/poetry, but also in poetry in general. Maybe you can connect this to the sort of dialectical nature of environment, how our perception of it changes our experience of it. With this kind of understanding of nature or environment, why does reflexivity become so important?

  14. Also, 3 poems will be enough.

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