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Finally posted!

So, I know it seems like I’m cheating, but I found Whitman in my kitchen. I was going to go to Camden and just pick a random spot, but that didn’t seem honest. I read all of our assignments at my kitchen table where I do my work. I’ve written before that there are times when it seems as though Whitman is talking through the page, and there were instances when it seemed as though he was sitting across the table from me letting out whatever words reached his tongue in that moment.

So anyway, I chose “The Wound-Dresser” because it reminds me of some of my patients.

The Wound-Dresser


AN old man bending I come among new faces,

Years looking backward resuming in answer to children,

Come tell us old man, as from young men and maidens that

love me,

(Arous’d and angry, I’d thought to beat the alarum, and

urge relentless war,

But soon my fingers fail’d me, my face droop’d and I

resign’d myself,

To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch

the dead;)

Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these


Of unsurpass’d heroes, (was one side so brave? the other

was equally brave;)

Now be witness again, paint the mightiest armies of earth,

Of those armies so rapid so wondrous what saw you to tell us?

What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,

Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what

deepest remains?


O maidens and young men I love and that love me,

What you ask of my days those the strangest and sudden

your talking recalls,

Soldier alert I arrive after a long march cover’d with sweat

and dust,

In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly

shout in the rush of successful charge,

Enter the captur’d works–yet lo, like a swift-running river

they fade,

Pass and are gone they fade–I dwell not on soldiers’ perils

or soldier’s joys,

(Both I remember well–many the hardships, few the joys,

yet I was content.)

But in silence, in dreams’ projections,

While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,

So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints

off the sand,

With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for

you up there,

Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong


Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,

Straight and swift to my wounded I go,

Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,

Where their priceless blood reddens the grass the ground,

Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d


To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,

To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do

I miss,

An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,

Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, empties, and

fill’d again.

I onward go, I stop,

With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,

I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,

One turns to me his appealing eyes–poor boy! I never

knew you,

Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if

that would save you.


On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)

The crush’d head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the

bandage away,)

The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and

through I examine,

Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet

life struggles hard,

(Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!

In mercy come quickly.)

From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,

I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the

matter and blood,

Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv’d neck and

side-falling head,

His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on

the bloody stump,

And has not yet look’d on it.

I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,

But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and


And the yellow-blue countenance see.

I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-


Cleanse the one with a gnowing and putrid gangrene, so

sickening, so offensive,

While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray

and pail.

I am faithful, I do not give out,

The fractur’d thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,

These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in

my breast a fire, a burning flame.)


Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,

Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,

The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,

I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,

Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,

(Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d

and rested,

Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)

Socialism: Whitman and Emma Goldman

Whitman’s influence has been surprisingly far-reaching. He was the model for Bram Stoker’s Dracula1, his lifestyle was adopted by the Beat movement including Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac2, and many in the literary world consider him to be “America’s Poet” in the words of Ezra Pound3. However, his influence went beyond the world of literature and into the world of politics. Whitman’s egalitarian philosophy with respect to religion, sexuality, gender and race touched many a political activist, where equality for all is a commonality.

One such activist is the self-proclaimed atheist and anarchist Emma Goldman. Described during her life as “the most dangerous woman in America” by many4, she first came into contact with Whitman’s work while serving a year-long prison sentence for inciting a riot during a demonstration against unemployment in 18935. Among other American activist-writers such as Emerson and Thoreau, she read Whitman’s Leaves of Grass6. Other than this, however, she had absolutely no contact with Whitman. While they were contemporaries, Goldman was only in the United States for the last ten years of Whitman’s life.

She may have related to Whitman because of her similar views on certain issues. She shared the nearly unheard of view—even among anarchists—that homosexuals deserve the same rights as heterosexuals7, writing in numerous letters and speeches in the defense of gay rights. And, while Whitman was influenced by deism, he was skeptical of religious institutions and held no faith to be greater than any other; an atheist by declaration, I believe Goldman felt connected to Whitman’s sentiment regarding religion even as she vehemently denied the existence of G-d8.

But, that is essentially where the similarities end. While Whitman believed in a close relationship between poetry and society9, Goldman held a hypocritical view of activism in which violence that served her purposes was acceptable10 while even non-violent actions undertaken by those opposed to her were tyrannical and oppressive11. She helped conspire with her lover to murder the industrialist Henry Clay Frick, begging him to allow her to participate12; she also expressed approval of the ideals behind the assassination of President McKinley13. She organized strikes and demonstrations, often attempting to incite the participants to violence or disruptiveness14.

However, despite her wildly hypocritical views on appropriate tactics, she—like Whitman—had fairly far-reaching influence. Her work in women’s rights led to the creation of anarcha-feminism, which regards patriarchy as an establishment to be resisted. Goldman is often cited as the movement’s founder15. In the same light, her incessant championing of her ideals in the face of multiple arrests influenced the founder of the ACLU, Roger Baldwin16.

And so, while she did not have direct contact with Whitman, she may have felt that he was in league with her given his views on certain issues. Whitman has a way of conjuring his presence through the page, which Goldman may have sensed and used to bolster her belief that he would have supported her actions. Indeed, she included his poems in her self-published magazine, Mother Earth, and eventually wrote an essay on him in which she linked the deep meaning of his words to his homosexuality17. However, despite similar views on a limited number of topics, Whitman and Goldman could not be much more different in personality, tactics, and political views.

1Nuzum, Eric. The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula. Thomas Dunne Books, 2007: 141-147.

2Loving, Jerome. Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself. University of California Press, 1999: 181.

3Pound, Ezra. “Walt Whitman”, Whitman, Roy Harvey Pearce, ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962: 8.

4Avrich, Paul. Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America. AK Press, 2006: 45.

5Wexler, Alice. Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984: 76.

6Ibid, 78-79.

7Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. New York: Penguin Books, 1992: 376-380.

8Goldman, Emma. “The Philosophy of Atheism”, Mother Earth. Self-Published, 1916.

9Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1995: 5.

10Goldman, Emma. Living My Life. 1931. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1970: 88.

11Goldman, Emma. Anarchism and Other Essays. 3rd ed. 1917. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1969: 79.

12Id., note 10

13Id., note 11

14Ibid., note 5, p. 91

15Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: HarperCollins, 1992: 409.

16Finan, Christopher M. From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 2007: 18.

17Ibid., note 11 – I could not actually find the book or the essay, but I found a reference to it in this work


I hope this works, because it’s been hard to upload this thing.

In the Second Annex, there are a series of short poems, including one that caught my interest. “Good-Bye my Fancy” is a four-word poem with a parenthetical and a lengthy comment on the first two words of the poem. The main body of the work is simply

GOOD-BYE* my fancy–

followed by what seems to be Whitman interrupting himself mid-sentence, reconsidering what he is about to say

(I had a word to say,
But ’tis not quite the time–The best of any man’s word or say,
Is when its proper place arrives–and for its meaning,
I keep mine till the last.)

The em-dash separating the body of the poem and the parenthetical indicates an interruption.  It tells us that there was originally more to the thought, but what follows interrupted Whitman’s stream of consciousness.  The words indicate that while Whitman was about to impart a farewell to his “fancy” (Leaves of Grass itself, perhaps), something stopped him, and he decided that it would be best to finish his thought at another time.

But if that is so, why write it at all?  The interruption theory works for speech or dialogue, but in the medium Whitman is working in, there is no illusion of spontaneity.  From conception to publication, the crafting of a poem is a lengthy and deliberate process; so, if words are on the printed page, it is because Whitman wanted them there–not because they were already spoken and could not be unspoken.  To answer this question, we must look to the tiny asterisk attached to the words Good-Bye.

That asterisk indicates a footnote, which Whitman has included with the poem.  The full text can be found at the bottom of page 639, but it essentially says two things:  first, that G00d-byes are merely the marks of new beginnings, and second, that while last words are valuable, they are often mistakenly used as “samples of the best” when in fact, they are not.  This gives an important insight into the inclusion of a seemingly out-of-place poem.

Perhaps it is because of his age or because Leaves of Grass had not had the impact he had hoped for, but Whitman clearly adopted the view that the End is not truly the conclusion, but a transitory period that marks the start of something new–a New Beginning.  But, rather than keep this information to himself, he wanted to infuse it within the very work he was closing.  The Annex ultimately ends with a full version of “Good-Bye my Fancy,” but including only the full version would have glossed over the true meaning behind the words.  By including what seems like a false-start, Whitman employs a technique often used by Shakespeare:  he forces us to stop, recognize that we are reading words very deliberately placed on the page and think about why they are there and what they are telling us.  So when Whitman tells us that he “had a word to say,/But ’tis not quite the time–” he is telling us that there is a special meaning behind the last words of a person or work.

And for Whitman, the special meaning is that a Good-bye is not a Good-bye or an End at all; rather, it is a Hello and a Beginning.

This week’s reading surrounds the Civil War and President Lincoln’s assassination. Drum-Taps and Memories of President Lincoln are both filled with deeply moving passages that recall both the build up before the war and the immense grief felt after that unfortunate night in April 1865. “First O Songs for a Prelude” speaks of the changes felt as the conflict became imminent:

How your soft opera-music changed, and the drum and fife were

heard in their stead,

How you led to the war, (that shall serve for our prelude, songs

of soldiers,)

How Manhattan drum-taps led.

Lincoln’s original strategy was to avoid war and not take any action against the Confederacy (which was established prior to his election); however, in April 1861, the Confederacy made it clear that war was inevitable when it attacked and took control of Fort Sumpter. The above passage describes the change in the Union’s attitude as it prepared to go to war against those trying to tear it apart.

The “Song of the Banner at Daybreak” moves us into the midst of war:

I hear and see not strips of cloth alone,

I hear the tramp of armies, I hear the challenging sentry,

I hear the jubilant shouts of millions of men, I hear Liberty!

But more tellingly, Whitman describes the feeling of disunity and the precariousness of the States, saying, “Not now are we any one of these spacious and haughty States.”

However, the passage I found to be the most compelling is the last in this week’s selection. “The Dust was Once the Man” is only four lines, but it speaks volumes about Whitman’s view of Lincoln and the condition of the United States after the war. The first line reads, “The dust was once the man.” The Torah describes G-d’s creation of man in Genesis 2:7:

Then the LORD G-d formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

(emphasis mine)

After the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, G-d condemns man to eventual death, saying in Gen. 3:19, “In the sweat of your face shall your eat bread, till you return unto the ground; for out of it were you taken; for dust you are, and unto dust shall you return” (emphasis mine). “Gentle, plain, just and resolute” as he may be, all of us are destined to return to our source, both in spirit and in body.

However, while he was alive, “the foulest crime in history known in any land or age” was resolved “under [his] cautious hand.” As the first line of the passage alludes to, we are all from the same stuff—we are all dust. This common bond connects us, and denying our interconnectedness in order to segregate and dominate is the greatest crime one can commit; however, because of Lincoln’s prowess and cautionary demeanor, he was able to supress the effort and “[save] the Union of these States.”

The last line in the passage is an interesting precursor to a dramatic change in the way the United States viewed itself, as well as how the rest of the world viewed her. Before the Civil War, the Union was not much more than a collection of loosely connected States—people said, “The United States are.” After the war, there was a shift in grammar, and people began to say, “The United States is.” Lincoln unified the States and transformed them into a nation. Through that lens, it is easy to see the pain one would feel at his passing as is movingly described by Whitman in Memories.

Skimming through the text for a word that was unfamiliar, I ran across this passage on page 85 at the bottom:

To his work without flinching the accoucheur comes,

I wasn’t sure what this was, so I looked it up.

Male Midwife

Male Midwife

An accoucheur is a person who assists in birth, particularly an obsetrician.  They were frequently midwives in Whitman’s time and had an assortment of instruments at their disposal should the birth prove difficult.

 c. 1840

c. 1840

c. 1840

c. 1860

Prior to the mid-18th century, medical practitioners were called to a birth only in an emergency (e.g., the late stages of a complicated birth).  By the end of the 18th century, birth management was transformed by the establishment of “man-midwifery.”  These physician-accoucheurs were being used more and more commonly by women.  Instruction became accessible to medical students, greatly increasing knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of childbirth and obstetrical complications.

Sources: Loudon, Irvine (1996). Making of man-midwifery. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 70 (3): 507-515.

Images from: Accoucheur’s Antique at http://www.fcgapultoscollection.com/antique.html


Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with


I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the

distillation, it is odorless,

It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,

I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,

I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

The smoke of my own breath,

Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and


My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing

of blood and air through my lungs,


Welcome to Jewbacca’s Whitman page. This will be the Jew-i-est Whitman blog you’ve ever seen.

You’ve been warned.

Jewasaurus Rex says, “Kol tov.”

J. Rex says Kol Tov!

Black Hat Dinosaur in Crown Heights c. Jurassic Period

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