March 20, 2005

Walt Whitman: Blogger #1

"I Celebrate my blog, and sing my blog..."

IN 1855, AMERICA'S GREATEST POET WALT WHITMAN PUBLISHES "SONG OF MYSELF" IN LEAVES OF GRASS. He will update, add to, and republish this poem and many others until he dies in 1892. Song of Myself begins

I Celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
It ends with an immortal valediction to searching:
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

In between Whitman writes:
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through
the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
This was first noticed by Jon Garfunkel @ Civilities. He expands the points in his eye-opening, if creatively titled, Walt Whitman, Primogenial [sic] Blogger? :
  • Whitman self-published "Leaves of Grass" in 1855, at his own expense.
  • He would keep adding to it (re-publishing it) until his death in 1892-- nine different editions.
  • Whitman reacted to current events, in ways more memorable than the newspapers: "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and "O Captain, My Captain" upon Lincoln's death.
  • Years before he began Leaves of Grass, he was a journalist; he left the Brooklyn Daily Eagle over political differences.
  • He was fired from his job in the Interior Department once the Secretary discovered his writings.
  • One reviewer called it "a stupid mass of filth"; this is prefigures the "Boring Load Of Garbage" definition once given (and now redacted) for "blog" on the urban dictionary.
  • The most favorable early reviewer was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who sent Whitman a glowing note. Whitman leaked it to the mainstrea media, the New York Tribune, and Emerson was quite annoyed by that.
  • Just to tip the scales a little more, Whitman often wrote anonymous and pseudonymous reviews favorable to his book.
Sound familiar? The rest of Garfunkel's observations are even more compelling. So compelling that I'm inclined to accept them simply because it removes the laurels from a group of self-proclaimed "first bloggers" of our era. After all, what is best for this medium? To accept as Blogger #1 a vain and blathering and hyper-compulsive techhead, or to say that its roots are found in the work of the greatest poet of America?

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Posted by Vanderleun at March 20, 2005 07:50 AM | TrackBack

Thanks for the mention.

Readers of the piece will find that I have absolutely zero experience understanding poetry, and thus in the end I came off pretty inconclusive. But I did want to throw out the point, for the 150th anniversary of Leaves of Grass.

BTW, "primogenial" is a known word, I was thinking "primordial" but didn't want the connotation of "primordial soup."

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at March 27, 2005 02:14 PM
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