Rare Walt Whitman Artifacts Go on View

Happy 200th birthday, Walt Whitman! To celebrate the poet’s bicentennial, the Library of Congress has a special exhibition of some of his belongings and notebooks. If you’re in Washington DC this summer, stop in for a visit.

On June 3, the notebook will join a pair of partly frosted eyeglasses and a walking cane given to the poet by naturalist John Burroughs, among other rare artifacts, in a display hosted by the LOC’s Jefferson Building. The event is tied to a larger Whitman bicentennial display that opened earlier this month and runs through August 15.

Topics addressed in the display include Whitman’s likely romantic relationship with streetcar conductor Peter Doyle, his traumatizing Civil War battlefield experiences, and his firsthand involvement in the design and publication of Leaves of Grass. Continually revised between 1855 and Whitman’s death in 1892, Leaves of Grass started out as a set of 12 untitled poems. But by the text’s second edition, the number of featured poems had multiplied to 33; ultimately, its final form constituted 383 poems spread out across 14 sections.

Also on the agenda are a history talk hosted in Culpeper, Virginia—where Whitman spent two months while serving as a volunteer in nearby field hospitals during the Civil War—and a June 3 open house featuring artifact selections and a documentary showing. A complete list of events can be found on the LOC press release.

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-library-congress-marking-walt-whitmans-200th-birthday-180972242/#xstysi3O1DiscuGs.99
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Source: Rare Walt Whitman Artifacts Go on View at Library of Congress for Poet’s 200th Birthday | Smart News | Smithsonian

Walt Whitman Exhibit

The University of Virginia is marking Walt Whitman’s bicentennial with a new exhibit. If you’re in the area, it’s ongoing to July 29th.

This year, the University of Virginia celebrates the bicentennial of his birth with an exhibition, “Encompassing Multitudes: The Song of Walt Whitman.” The exhibit showcases various editions of his best-known volume, “Leaves of Grass,” and handwritten versions of these and other poems, as well as other writings, including essays against slavery and about Abraham Lincoln, and letters and notes detailing his time working as a nurse during the Civil War.


Civil War Podcast #5 – The Fiery Gospel

I’m in over the wire this week, but hey – it’s still February 5th somewhere, so I’m counting it anyway!

This week, I celebrate the anniversary of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, published this day (or yesterday, if you want to get technical) in 1862.

You can download the podcast by visiting the February page and clicking on the MP3 link.

Bivouac of the Dead

As a teenaged tourist to Civil War battlefields (and the accompanying cemeteries), it was impossible to escape The Bivouac of the Dead.  The morbid, dreary stanzas were mounted on plaques around every cemetery. My parents being eager to continue the drive down to the beach (the battlefield visits were a holiday concession; exchanged for 3 weeks of fair-skinned, easily-sunburned me shutting up about how boring beaches were), I was usually being chivvied back to the car by the time the acres of headstones were reached. Consequently I never had time to write down the whole poem, so at Shiloh resorted to taking pictures of each plaque.  My mother, who can give Ebenezer Scrooge a run for his well-hoarded money, was none too pleased at having to develop photo after photo of leadfooted Victorian eulogy.

Reminiscing aside, here’s the history of the poem, as well as an interesting historical footnote: “It was Montgomery C. Meigs who chose to quote Bivouac of the Dead for the entrance into Arlington, due to its solemn appeal. However, at Arlington and many other national cemeteries, O’Hara was not credited due to having fought for the Confederacy.” Nobody held a grudge quite like Monty Meigs.

The Bivouac of the Dead is a poem written by Theodore O’Hara to honor his fellow soldiers from Kentucky who died in the Mexican-American War. The poem increased its popularity after the Civil War, and its verses have been featured on many memorials to fallen Confederate soldiers in the Southern United States, and are even to be found on many memorials in Arlington National Cemetery, including Arlington’s gateway.

via Bivouac of the Dead – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

“John Brown’s Body” – Live!

I’m too late to shill this local theatre production, which is a shame, but it looks as though there are other dates for Wyomingites to attend.  It’s a live reading of Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic poem, with choral accompaniment. An unusual spectacle but an interesting one.

“John Brown’s Body” was originally produced for the stage in 1953. It tells the story of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry on through the battle of Gettysburg and the emancipation proclamation. In the Simpsons’ production, these events are blended with the stories of soldiers and families who witnessed these events firsthand. The adaptation comes out of Yale University, according to Lynne Simpson.

“There are no time-specific costumes, but we have been working to learn a lot of the lines and there will be a lot of effects and music to highlight the story and make it dramatic,” Lynne said.

via “John Brown’s Body” – Wyoming Tribune Eagle Online.

Pensive on Her Dead Gazing

This Walt Whitman poem closed out the recent PBS documentary Death and the Civil War (based on the excellent Drew Gilpin Faust history, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War) I’ve never been a poetry student, but I knew as soon as the narrator started in that it was a Whitman piece. The war deeply scarred him, but his humanity always shines through. I love his notion of spending my afterlife being absorbed by trees and exhaled back out into the universe.


PENSIVE, on her dead gazing, I heard the Mother of All,

 Desperate, on the torn bodies, on the forms covering the battle-fields gazing;

 As the last gun ceased—but the scent of the powder-smoke linger’d;

 As she call’d to her earth with mournful voice while she stalk’d:

 Absorb them well, O my earth, she cried—I charge you, lose not my sons! lose not an atom;

 And you streams, absorb them well, taking their dear blood;

 And you local spots, and you airs that swim above lightly,

 And all you essences of soil and growth—and you, my rivers’ depths;

 And you, mountain sides—and the woods where my dear children’s blood, trickling, redden’d;

And you trees, down in your roots, to bequeath to all future trees,

My dead absorb—my young men’s beautiful bodies absorb—and their precious, precious, precious blood;

Which holding in trust for me, faithfully back again give me, many a year hence,

 In unseen essence and odor of surface and grass, centuries hence;

 In blowing airs from the fields, back again give me my darlings—give my immortal heroes;  

Exhale me them centuries hence—breathe me their breath—let not an atom be lost;

O years and graves! O air and soil! O my dead, an aroma sweet!

Exhale them perennial, sweet death, years, centuries hence.

via 191. Pensive on Her Dead Gazing, I Heard the Mother of All. Whitman, Walt. 1900. Leaves of Grass.

New Poet Laureate

A new Poet Laureate has been named, and she’s a Civil War buff (at least insofar as she wrote a collection of war-themed poems). Brava, Natasha Trethewey.

The Library of Congress named Natasha Trethewey yesterday its 19th U.S. poet laureate, with a mission to share the art of poetry with a wider audience. The English and creative writing professor at Emory University in Atlanta distinguished herself early, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2007…

Part of her work has focused on restoring history that has been erased or forgotten from the official record and the nation’s shared memory. Her research in the library’s Civil War archive informs some of her writings.

Trethewey won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poems, “Native Guard.” She wrote of the Louisiana Native Guard, a black regiment assigned to guard white Confederate soldiers on Ship Island, off Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

via Trethewey named new U.S. poet laureate.

Memorial Day, Memorialised

For Memorial Day, an excerpt of Voluntaries, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

In an age of fops and toys,
Wanting wisdom, void of right,
Who shall nerve heroic boys
To hazard all in Freedom’s fight,–
Break sharply off their jolly games,
Forsake their comrades gay,
And quit proud homes and youthful dames,
For famine, toil, and fray?
Yet on the nimble air benign
Speed nimbler messages,
That waft the breath of grace divine
To hearts in sloth and ease.
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can.

The full poem is available here:


The Walt Whitman Archive

I was looking for the source of Walt Whitman’s war reminiscences, and happened upon the Walt Whitman Archive. Not only does it have the published anecdotes, it also offers all his poetry and a trove of letters, too.

Whitman’s writing is very readable. I planned to leaf through some of the Memoranda, and wound up reading almost the entire collection. It’s a fantastic resource they’re offering, here.


Civil War Inspired Poetry

I’m not much of a poetry connoisseur, but I liked the idea behind these works. S. Thomas Summers writes in the voice of ordinary soldiers, basing some of his poems on letters or photos.

Union Solider Recounts the Burning of Atlanta

A local boy said the smoke was darker
than the walls of a heifer’s ass,

but Gen. Sherman strolled
right through it as if molded
from soot. The haze
gathered behind him
like the Reaper’s cloak.

Hiking out, heat stabbed
our backs like bayonets;
Remember Atlanta boys,
the general barked.
Even hell’s on our side.

From then on I assumed
I was marching
behind Satan himself.
Sin or not, I was pleased as pie

Lint in My Pocket