Posts Tagged ‘women and nature’

Whitman’s unrealistic social ideals

In reading Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” I was especially intrigued by his ideals of community and equality as they were presented in his poetry. In “For You O Democracy” Whitman’s beliefs regarding these issues came through especially strongly. Whitman seemed to have very unrealistic ideals, especially for the time period, regarding women and other underrepresented minorities and their place in American society. In “For You O Democracy,” Whitman states: “I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America… I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s neck.” This statement brings to mind a society that is built on entirely equal footing; the reality of social prejudices based on race, gender, and religion are nowhere to be found. Furthermore, Whitman uses nature symbolisms to pull this idea together; as we have seen throughout this semester, nature is historically a subject of oppression. The image of a tree as the “glue” that holds a country together is one we have not seen depicted thus far throughout the semester and brings forth an interesting paradox. As Americans have been conditioned to view nature as something to conquer and use as they need it, these statements of nature as powerful and all-encompassing are meant to make readers rethink their habits and values.

Another area where Whitman deviates from the norm is in his discussion of gender and nature. Although throughout his poetry he describes nature as feminine and having an almost sexual appeal, in “To the Garden the World” Whitman says “By my side or back of me Eve following/ Or in front, and I following her just the same.” This reference to a female coupled with Whitman’s apparent indifference whether he is in charge or no leads me to believe that he held ideologies inconsistent with most of his male peers; he seems to view women as a group much more equally (albeit still quite sexually) than other men of his time.  Accordingly, in the aforementioned “For You O Democracy,” Whitman describes Democracy as both the “manly love of comrades” and “ma femme.” These contradictory labels, coupled with his incongruous descriptions of American society and equality, prove to me that Whitman was aiming to write poetry that would get his readers to rethink how they felt about oppressed groups; unfortunately, the contradictory aspects of much of his writing muddles his main arguments. The dichotomies between women being leaders, but also sexual beings, and an entirely equal democratic society as strong and masculine, but at the same time feminine, confuses the reader as to what Whitman’s ultimate goal is.

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

L.H. Sigourney: An Ecofeminist Perspective

In L.H. Sigourney’s poem “Fallen Forests,” I found many elements that aligned with the ideals of the ecofeminist perspectives we read in the Judith Plant essays for this week. In her essays, Plant states: “Life struggles in nature… become feminist issues within the ecofeminist perspective. Once we understand the historical connections between women and nature and their subsequent oppression, we cannot help but take a stand on the war against nature” (Plant, 80). I found that quote to encompass a lot of what Sigourney was trying to argue within “Fallen Forests.”

For example, line one of Sigourney’s poem states: “Man’s warfare on the trees is terrible” (Sigourney, 117). This statement could not be more blatant or upfront; she goes on to describe how the tree-cutting practices of the time are truly ruining nature, and if Americans are not more careful, the damage will be irreparable. Although when she says “man,” this could be taken to mean both males and females, throughout the poem there are images conjured of lumber jacks and laborers working hard to wreck the natural environment. These images, of course, correspond to the traditional ideals of men “out in the fields” with women staying in the home. This idea directly intertwines itself with Plant’s statement above. In this way, Sigourney’s poem not only calls out the American practice of tree-cutting (and its subsequent harms to the environment) but makes a statement against the male dominated world she, as a woman, lives in.

Sigourney does not shy away from making these remarks bold and direct; she even relies on some emotional appeals to impress upon her readers how dire this situation is. On page 118, Sigourney states: “neither he, nor… his children’s children, shall behold what he hath swept away” (Sigourney, 118). This, coupled with the last line of the poem that describes the irrevocability of man’s actions, leaves a clear statement in the reader’s mind. If nothing changes, nature will be damaged for all time. The true cleverness of Sigourney’s statement, though, lies in the fact that she is able to effortlessly tie in a complementary argument- advocating for women’s rights, as well as nature’s.

 

Plant, Judith. Home! A Bioregional Reader.Ch./Art: REvaluing Home: Feminism and Bioregionalism; Searching for Common Ground:
Evofeminism and Bioregionalism p. 21-23, 79-82. pub. New Society Publishers 1990

Sigourney, L.H. Scenes in My Native Land. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 117-132. pub. James Munroe and Company 1845