Connect a Specific Line from Whitman to the PBS Film

The technology staff in the Crowsnest is still trying to find out why PBS took the great episode of Whitman off of their site. Moving forward, let’s have everyone view and absorb these three great segments below. Then, as you are reading and rereading our 19th century national bard, connect an exact moment in one of these films with a line from Whitman’s poetry. How does the film enlighten or enlarge your understanding of this specific line? What insight do you find in this specific line? How does this line relate to some larger theme, trend or motif in Whitman’s poetry? Please cite our Norton page number of your edition and the line so we can all easily access your line and appreciate your insight.


About Bill Sullivan

I am an English teacher working with great students at Suffield Academy. I also teach seniors in various project-based learning environments. Some of the #PBL topics included global issues, such as Pandemics, Climate Change, and Water; more recently I have asked students to research and identify topics important to our school community and their generation. We curate these topics with a #StudentCenteredPBL. For the past eleven years, I also created a driving question for a class to research a local history mystery and present their findings in a community program partnering with our local historical society. These topics encompass researching the lives of enslaved individuals who were contributors to the foundation of our community.
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11 Responses to Connect a Specific Line from Whitman to the PBS Film

  1. Denny Smythe says:

    In the original copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Whitman portrayed himself very differently than the other poets of his time period. Instead of wearing formal dress and posing properly for a picture, as was standard for this time, Whitman showed himself as the man he was, which was beyond the bounds of normality. In a line from Song of Myself, Whitman says: “the scent of these armpits aroma finer than prayer” (1347). This line seems strange at first glance, but with the knowledge that Whitman was a man of a tough past, a man who believed in hard work, and valued every piece of the body for its own purpose, this line shows how Whitman associates even the most seemingly insignificant body parts with religion and prayer. Whitman strongly appreciates one’s soul or self and this is a common trend throughout his poetry. Not only was Whitman’s poetry breaking several boundaries of the 19th century, his words opened new doors to concepts still so foreign to scholars and poets everywhere.

  2. peter derby says:

    The creation of the Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman gave a new perspective to many who supported the 19th Century stereotypes of poets. Whitman strayed from the path of many other poets with his unique and original style. His originality was captured in photographs, where he was not formally dressed and did not look like a typical poet for the time period. He portrays himself in manner that went against the standards of the time. The line from Song of Myself, illustrates his life different from most poets, “Wrench’d and sweaty- calm and cool then my body becomes; I sleep- I sleep long” (1373). The line portrays Whitman as a man who grew up so differently than most, which destroys the contain stereotypes cause upon poets. Walt Whitman portrays his everyday life, working hard to a point of perspiration of his body. The poems he wrote are by a man who gave an entirely new insight of life from a different social class. The boundaries of poetry were pushed by his writing and even to a point that broke so many limitations put upon poetry in the 19th Century. Walt Whitman’s style of writing produced opportunities for American literature to develop and become an expression of ones’ ideas and thoughts that did not follow protocol.

  3. Sage Maggi says:

    The film helps a reader to better understand Whitman and where he is coming from in his poetry, esspcially in “Song to Myself” because it shows that he is not afraid to break barriers and be his uninflected self. He does not let outside influences hold him back from what he wants to express, which makes him a distinctive and his works pleasurable to read. In Section 52, the line “I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world”(2558) not only shows the insight of the narrator of the poem; who may or may not be Whitman himself, but shows the impact Whitman’s writing had on society. His use of harsh words in his poem makes it unique, so this line shows how his writing is “untamed” as he is. He gives his poetry to the world as it is, with his coarse and raw language unchanged. This relates to the “yawp” because his writing was so different that it attracted the attention of many people, which was his intention, like “sounding [it] over the roods of the world”.

  4. Nate Keyes says:

    In the beginning of the first video, the speaker explains how Whitman is trying to find his voice in the genesis of Leaves of Grass. The speaker then goes on about what Whitman writes in this notebook that leads to the creation of Leaves of Grass. The most significant line that he points out is when Whitman writes in his notebook, “Every soul has its own individual voice.” This line demonstrates that Whitman truly believes that everyone has the right to be who they want to be. He really abides to this belief in the sense that he doesn’t stay inside the lines with his poetry; he does what he feels is natural and creates a voice for himself. In a line from Song of Myself, Whitman declares, “I went myself first to the headland, my own hands carried me there” (2231). This line portrays Whitman in a different light than any other poet because he is exposed as a working man. He comes from a very different background than all the other poets, which makes him really stand out in the poetic society. He doesn’t dress up and try to look nice like all the other poets; he always looks very rugged and informally dressed. This is him showing the voice that he finds, which also reinforces what he says about every soul having an individual voice. His individual voice is that he is not like the other poets, he wants to be seen as a working man and is proud of it.

  5. Beanie O'Shea says:

    The audience can often discover the identity of the poet through the poetry written. Walt Whitman is no exception to this, rather it could even be argued that he discovers his own identity through his writing. Whitman left his family at an early age, escaping the “dark shadow” of his father and seeking to pave his own way, and although he returned later to help financially, he was still an independent character. This independence resonates through his poetry, the lack of boundaries and total acceptance paving the way to the innovation Whitman brought to poetry. In “Song of Myself” especially, the audience can understand and even reciprocate this idea of independence: “You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self” (1331). Conformity is an entity that one cannot lower him or herself to; accept others as well as accepting oneself. Acceptance is another large theme that coincides with this idea of independence as it is impossible to be completely independent if one cannot let others feel this same self-government. Although initially in his life Whitman felt no inclination towards the freedom of slaves, and even disregarded it in the worry of job shortage, later in life, after a brief visit to the deep south, he discovers the appeal of this equal coexistence between two races and this begins to appear in his writing: “I mind them or the show or resonance of them—I come and I depart” (1335). This line comes after a stanza full of imagery of people of all ages, genders, and races; Whitman does not waver or linger on the idea of acceptance or equality, he is of his own character and beliefs, independent and un-conformed. Walt Whitman creates an idealistic view of the world in his poetry, and simultaneously projects it as his independent thought urging the audience to an independence fused with acceptance of their own.

  6. Jackie Nicoletti says:

    In the collection of poems “Leaves of Grass,” Walt Whitman extends far beyond the refined and sophisticated way of life and poetry that was often published during the time period. Alternatively, Walt illustrates this rawness and openness of societal truth, uncovering outrageous perspectives of reality and capturing the unedited versions of the world. He does this through not only using harsh Anglo-Saxon language and “barbaric yawp,’ but by humbling himself to a level that is equivalent to, or even below, his audience. In his famous poem “Song by Myself,” he greatly expresses this idea of humbling himself through one specific stanza:
    “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
    If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
    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” (1374).
    Whitman is quite literally putting himself on ground level; he does not consider himself above any form of society and he filters through the blood of all different types of people. This shows his importance to relate to all of society and represent even the people who often are placed as low as ground level. As I quote from the video, “for Whitman you couldn’t have an honest poetry that wasn’t including the whole person.” Through his poetry, it is clearly evident that Whitman did not discriminate nor leave out parts of society simply because they are not refined or polished. He included the “whole person,” and celebrated even the harshest forms of reality and considered himself part of the real world. The greatness of his poetry stemmed not from an excellent education, but by merely walking amongst the people and familiarizing himself with all the different shades of grey in society, abolishing all ignorance and ignoring any importance of merit or status. Walt Whitman was truly a poet of the people; to relate to him, all you have to do was look for him under the soles of your shoes, no matter what background you come from.

  7. Patrick Siripakorn says:

    Since the day of the publication of the book “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman, it was purposely set to “save the American society”. As stated in the PBS film, this particular original work broke the standards of a poem, strayed away from the norm, and ultimately relinquished its innate desire oppose against conformity. “Leaves of Grass” can stray between a single atom to the entire universe, which exemplifies the poem’s lack of boundaries. Instead of being written in a specific poetic form, it is mostly written in prose, manifesting its unique individuality. In a line from “The Song of Myself”, Whitman States: “I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord, a scented gift and remembrance designedly dropt” (1333). This line portrays that Whitman believes that even a small blade of grass can be the embodiment of something greater, like God and divinity. The minuscule blade of grass signifies how individuality can convene and form an overall unique universality. Therefore, Whitman tacitly implies the fact that everyone will, in some way, be included in the universe together, since “for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (1330).

  8. Jillian Haywood says:

    When analyzing many of Walt Whitman’s works, two conflicting descriptions may emerge. As the Abridged Walt Whitman video describes, Whitman often seems arrogant. For example, he writes, “I celebrate myself” in the first line of “Song of Myself” (1330). He then follows one of these egotistical statements with a very humble statement. For example, in the first section of “Song of Myself”, Whitman writes “And what I assume, you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (1330). The first part of this sentence portrays an egotistical version of Whitman while the second shows that he believes he is no better than anyone else. He shows another example of his humble demeanor when he writes “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love” (1374). Because Whitman often lowers himself with humbling statements such as the ones previously mentioned, one can rightfully believe that he is not in fact arrogant as the video suggests, but that he is simply confident. Without this confidence, one can argue that Whitman may have failed to set out on his own to follow his dreams, may not have broken out of the form of formal poetry, and would not have dressed unlike any other poet. Without these essential facets of his character, Whitman would not have been successful in finding his individual voice in his poetry, and he would not be the poet that is so widely celebrated today.

  9. Ryan Malley says:

    Walt Whitman was a writer who sought to connect with the average American. This goal is found in his portraits where he is seen with a hat, a unbuttoned shirt and a pair of jeans. This laid back aspect of Whitman allowed him to identify with much of the middle-class American population. In his writing he also talks much about nature and the human-element, whereas much of American literature talked of symbolism and other complex literary devices. One of the first great realists, Whitman often incorporates the mundane into his literature and relates these tales of the common man’s comings and goings to a larger picture of life and reality as a whole. This aspect of his writing is shown in his epic Leaves of Grass here ““I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Whitman holds strong faith in the power of the individual, shown in the previous quotation when he shows his belief in a shared existence with all people.

  10. Chad says:

    The second video explains to us how Whitman felt in relation to the people of his time. He feels as if he were a representative of the common people. He worked with them, lived like them, and felt he had the ability to heal them. His connection to the common people is best shown in the quote “I am the mate and companion of the people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself” (2215). In his Leaves of Grass, Whitman crafts a work designed to heal the population. Leaves of Grass is a poem with no boundaries, a poem that showcases the common man that Whitman so greatly admired.

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