America in the Nineteenth Century, Virtually Yours

Critiques, in brief, of Transmission Histories
A Class Project


Poems by Emily Dickinson

"Crisis is sweet and yet the Heart"
Laura Elizabeth Wells

"Forever cherished be the tree"
Jarom McDonald

"I'm ceded - I've stopped being Theirs -"
Jennifer Moore

"Title divine, is mine"
Erin Gyomber

Poems by Walt Whitman

"Here the Frailest Leaves of Me" from "Calamus"
Christine Moritz

"I am the poet of the body," from Leaves of Grass
Shaun Thomas

"The disdain ans calmness of martyrs,"
Danielle Hatchett

"The negro holds firmly the reins of his four horses"
Dwan Henderson

"This Moment Yearning and Thoughtful"
Amy Hobbs

"To A Stranger" from "Calamus"
Ed Whitley

"Trickle Drops"
Stephanie Fitz

Laura Wells

"Crisis is sweet and yet the Heart" (also see H 244b, the second page).

In this brief paper I will discuss editorial treatments of the abundant variants in a complex manuscript from the 1870s, "Crisis is sweet and yet the Heart," revealing their strategies for ordering or controlling the poetry.

I will concentrate on the structure of Franklin's presentation of the manuscript in the Variorum (1365) and identify its mechanisms for organizing Dickinson's scene of writing. Franklin chooses variants just like Johnson (in the Complete Poems) and other editors. Yet whereas Johnson usually chooses a variant Dickinson underlined (taking that to be her final intention), Franklin chooses the phrasings he assumes came first to Dickinson's mind (he argues that all the variants were added after Dickinson drafted the poem). Like Johnson, Franklin alters lineation and breaks Dickinson's writing into two quatrains, even though stanzas are not clear in the manuscript and other editors (such as Todd and Smith and Hart) do not create them.

Franklin's presentation of the poem correlates with the other parts of his editorial entry: his narration of Dickinson's composition process and apparatus of the variants. Franklin calls Dickinson's document a "working draft," claiming "ED first worked all the way through the poem, then went back over the whole, suggesting additional possibilities and underscoring a few readings." This account assumes a knowledge of the exact order of composition, breaking the writing into distinct phases of composition and revision (without giving reasons). Dickinson's manuscript does not preclude the possibility that the variants were composed en route (and possibly meant to be considered during each read-through); this seems especially true when the variants are entered horizontally with dashes, as part of the line, or when they occupy their own line, as in: "And she will point [undoubtedly]/tell you sighing -- answer." Also, Franklin's phrasing in the headnote -- worked all the way through the poem, went back over the whole (italics mine) -- suggests that he conceives poems as objects which have definable limits and should be seen totalistically. Another major part of Franklin's editorial presentation is the apparatus of the variants, where the larger structure of the section again serves as a subtle ordering device. The separation of the variants from the (constructed) poem reinforces Franklin's narrative that it was composed and then revised, and that there is a discernible poem (of neat stanzas and lines and preferred variants) within this manuscript. Also, Franklin sectionally divides the variants according to the stanzas he has created.

This structuring fossilizes conventional ideas about the units of poems (lines, stanzas, final word choices), precludes alternate reading possibilities, and betrays the appearance of Dickinson's manuscript. Editors such as Smith and Hart stay truer to the original document, transcribing the variants in order and identifying upside down or sideways writing. Nevertheless, the typography and description of a book seems inadequate here. To avoid editorial construction, one may need to transcribe the exact appearance, spatial location, and orientation of each word, or (in the case of the Dickinson Hypertext Archive) link to the manuscript itself.

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Jarom McDonald

"Forever cherished be the tree"

The poem which Johnson classifies as number 1570 was taken from the manuscript of a letter which Emily Dickinson wrote to Mrs. Holland in 1883. However, this poem, whose first line in Johnson reads "Forever honored be the Tree," also exists in variant form in a Susan Dickinson transcription. While such a variation can provide an alternate reading of the poem, an even more important implication is that this variation, and the fact that Johnson chose the letter to Holland as the "authoritative" version, reveals certain fundamental biases of the editorial process, and broaches the question of whether one single set of words can represent authoritativeness of text.

Perhaps the largest factor in Johnson's decision is that the text which he chose was actually written by Emily herself, whereas the variant copy, in which the first line reads "Forever cherished be the tree," was transcribed by Susan Dickinson, presumably from a letter which was lost. There is some merit in such a choice—if one is claiming that this is a poem by Emily Dickinson, then a more "authoritative" text would be one written by Emily's hand. More support for this claim is provided by the fact that a second letter written by Emily (the recipient is unknown), contains the same text, meaning the same words (see Johnson's note to poem 1570). However, by placing this text in a position of dominance over the transcription by Susan, Johnson is reinforcing the idea that Emily was a poet of isolation; Johnson as editor is denying a sense of collaboration in authorship between Emily and her sister-in-law.

There are several possible reasons that the Susan transcription varies in the first line, and also varies in line six where she writes "Robin" instead of the "Robins" in the manuscript to Holland. Perhaps the original, "lost" letter to Susan was an early draft of the poem in which Emily was working through the revision process; hence, Susan would have transcribed it as Emily had written it to her. Or perhaps Emily had written the words "Forever honored be the tree," yet Susan as an individual wished to transcribe it differently, maybe even intending to later suggest the change to Emily. A look at the manuscript of Susan's transcription shows that at the end of the first line, she had originally written "Forever cherished be the morn," yet had crossed out the word "morn" and changed it to "tree." Though this alteration by itself could be a simple mistake, when read in conjunction with the other variants this text suggests a possibility that Susan was playing with Emily's poem, revealing her to be the confidant and collaborative author which other letters and manuscripts also highlight. We might wonder what Johnson would have done if the original letter to Susan had survived—would the Holland text still have been in a position of superiority? Or would it have forced a realization of the mutuality that is finally beginning to challenge the notion of author and authority?

(Letter to Mrs. Holland)
(Johnson's note on the poem)
(Susan's variant transcription)

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Jennifer Moore

Dickinson's poem # 508: "I'm ceded - I've stopped being Theirs -"

Though Dickinson's poem that starts: "I'm ceded--I've stopped being Theirs--" is fairly consistent in its representations in various texts, there are three variant word choices that give the careful reader some insight into her philosophy and theology. As an author of poems and letters meant to influence, Dickinson is continuously struggling to put into words the sense and the meaning of her heart, her soul, her mind. "Happy-Letter! Tell Her-/Tell Her-the page I never wrote! . . . Tell Her just how the fingers-hurried-/Then-how they-stammered-slow-slow-" (#494 version 2 Johnson, p. 238). Dickinson was a poet to whom word choice and presentation was all in all--taking excruciating care to convey her intent precisely. Hence, a close comparison of the variant word choices in poem # 508 gives insight into her message.

While she was baptized as a child, without choice, now she has been baptized "consciously, of Grace-".

Called to my Full-The Crescent dropped-
Existence's whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.
Her calling and, in fact, her entire existence has been validated through this second baptism. The variant of interest here is that it was also phrased: "Existence's surmise, filled up, With just one Diadem." A surmise connotes a guess, a conjecture. This second baptism seems to have answered some of Dickinson's questions about meaning and purpose in life. She need not travel any further--existence's whole arc--existence's surmise has been filled up with just one diadem. For Dickinson, could that one small diadem have been as powerful as the diamond ring of marriage? Could it be she was newly baptized by love?

Whatever the case, this second baptism--of love, of grace, of understanding--left Dickinson a stronger, more powerful figure. Gone were the dolls, the toys of childhood:

My second Rank-too small the first-
Crowned-Crowing-on my Father's breast-
A half unconscious Queen-
In an ambiguous line (is she referring to the first or second baptism that leaves her crowned on her Father's breast?), the variant reading shows the meaning more clearly: "Crowned-dangling-on my Father's breast-/An insufficient Queen." The first baptism leaves her crowing--or dangling--beneath her crown. Furthermore, she was but a half unconscious Queen; to be unconscious of choice in a state of free will is the greatest insufficiency. The second baptism was given "consciously, of Grace-" and it was precisely this consciousness that gives it the power. Dickinson has chosen this second rank, and that makes all the difference.
But this time--Adequate--Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown--
In place of "Will," she had also tried "power." Equating will with power is a strong philosophy in Dickinson's poetry. Life is risky, threatening, cajoling, cursing, blessing. One must choose wisely and well, and it is enduring by those choices that will give grace, heaven or hell. (Mark promoted on this soldier's brow-) Because of her steadfastness, Dickinson ends with "just a crown," or, in one last variant reading, "just a throne." Either connotes royalty-- her rejection of her first baptism into a baptism of her own choosing leaves her a sufficient, conscious Queen, most likely: "To that New Marriage- / Justified-through Calvaries of Love!".

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Erin Gyomber

"Title divine, is mine"

Two letter versions of "Title divine, is mine" survive, one to Samuel Bowles and one to Susan Dickinson. I find this fact fascinating. The meaning of the poem changes when I consider who each was sent to and the differences in each version seem to support this idea. Is one of these versions "the" poem? The Bowles version is considered the earlier version of the poem. To my surprise, the version sent to Susan is included in Bianchi's edition of the poems with its structure somewhat modified. Johnson privileges the Bowles version and includes the paragraph of "letter" that followed the poem, making changes within it for sentence structure. The included Susan version is also modified for sentence structure. Franklin has both versions in his variorum and changed the structure of each presentation, making the "letter" portion of the Bowles complete lines and regulating the line arrangement of each version. This condenses the Susan version of the poem and it appears much shorter than the actual letter shows it to be.

There are several significant changes between the Bowles and Susan versions. The Bowles copy of the poem is more "correct" than the Susan version. Lines are arranged in more complete thought patterns, thus necessarily changing stresses. The poem becomes decidedly more singsongy without the pauses necessitated by shorter lines and more punctuation. One of the most noticeable changes is the addition of numerous exclamation points. In the letter-poems sent to Susan at that time, exclamation points are not frequently used, but they abound in the material sent to Bowles. Is the exclamation point a familiar convention of the time? They change the tone of the poem, making it more "poetical," more flippant and appropriate for the time. The poem itself feels more "published" because of this addition and its recipient.

There are two textual changes. Line seven of fourteen reads "sends" in the Bowles. In Susan's version it reads "gives" and a line has been added; "Tri Victory" is line eighteen of twenty-two. I think these changes fit the recipients of each version as well. Bowles' copy is the more public of the two poems. God does send women to the earth to be His wife or to be the wife of a man and women stroke the melody or agree with convention when they become wives. Emily can be seen as asking if this is the normal practice, but she still believes that she is the "Empress of Calvary", God's wife as is appropriate for a woman who never marries. God has, however, given Susan to Emily. She is the gift that makes Emily "The Wife without / the Sign - ". Emily questions the "Tri Victory" (echoing the Trinity?) of the woman who has been "Born - Bridalled / Shrouded", receiving her personhood and having it taken away from her on her wedding day. Each poem carries meaning that the recipients could glean because of how they perceived Emily and their relationships with her.

Title divine - is mine!
The Wife - without the Sign!
Acute Degree - conferred on me -
Empress of Cavlary!
Royal - all but the Crown!
Betrothed - without the swoon
God sends us Women -
When you - hold - Garnet to Garnet -
Gold - to Gold -
Born - Bridalled - Shrouded -
In a Day -
"My Husband" - women say -
Stroking the Melody -
Is this - the way?

Here's - what I had to "tell you" -
You will tell no other? Honor - is it's
own pawn -
Title divine, is mine.
The Wife without
the Sign -
Acute Degree
Conferred on Me
Empress of Calvary -
Royal, all but the
Crown -
Betrothed, without
the Swoon
God gives us Women `
When You hold

(page break)

Garnet to Garnet -
Gold - to Gold -
Born - Bridalled `
Shrouded `
In a Day -
Tri Victory -
"My Husband" -
Women say
Stroking the Melody`
Is this the Way -
Emily -

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Christine Moritz

"Here the Frailest Leaves of Me" from "Calamus"

In the anthology The Harper American Literature, the selections from Walt Whitman's "Calamus" conclude with a three-line poem, "Here the Frailest Leaves of Me": "Here the frailest leaves of me and yet my strongest lasting, / Here I shade and expose my thoughts, I myself do not expose them, / And yet they expose me more than all my other poems" (page 1071). With its reflection on the poems' material nature and their capacity for revelation, the poem seems singularly fitted to serve as an epilogue. However, its publication history shows its place in the "Calamus" series to be more complicated than the anthology's selection would suggest.

The manuscript of the poem ( appears on the same sheet as another poem (the basis for "Calamus" poem 38 in the 1860 edition). Its wording is somewhat different from that of any print version of the poem. For example, the first line is "Here the frailest leaves of me, and yet the strongest lasting: - the last to be fully understood." While the poem's placement on the manuscript sheet does not suggest that it concludes the series, the end of the first line implies that function.

In the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, the poem appears as number forty-four (text image, in a series of forty-five "Calamus" poems. Now four lines, it begins, "HERE are my last words, and the most baffling." As the poem is the second-to-last in this edition's presentation of the "Calamus" series, these are indeed almost the poet's last words; the poem's function here is very close to that it serves in The Harper American Literature.

In the 1871-72 edition, the poem (text image, appears with the same wording (though not the same punctuation) and three-line structure as in the modern-day editions. The first line of the 1860 edition is gone, presumably because the poem is now in a different context. Here it is fifteenth in a sequence of thirty "Calamus" poems; it now anchors the series in the middle, rather than reflecting on it at its end.

In the 1891-92 edition, the text of the poem (text image, is identical to that of the modern-day editions. The poem is now twenty-five in a sequence of thirty-nine poems, and the arrangement of poems is largely the same as in the 1871-72 edition.

While The Harper American Literature preserves the wording and punctuation of the 1891-92 edition, its placement of the poem as the last of its five selections from "Calamus" suggests a role that the poem did not serve in that edition. Other than identifying (in an introduction on Whitman) the themes of the "Calamus" series, the anthology provides no information about the context of the selections. The date it lists below the poem, 1860, is that of the first printing. In rather contradictory fashion, and with inadequate indication, the anthology privileges both the final text supervised by the author and the first publication of an earlier version of the poem.


Transcription of the manuscript (by Christine Moritz):

Here the frailest leaves of me, and
     yet the strongest lasting: - the
     last to be fully understood,
Here I shade down and hide
     my thoughts, - I do not
     expose them,
And yet they expose me more
     than all my other poems.


MANUSCRIPT - manuscript image

1860 EDITION - text image of page 377 in the 1860 edition

1871-72 EDITION - text image of page 138 in the 1871-72 edition - full text of the 1871-72 edition

1891-92 EDITION - text image of page 108 in the 1891-92 edition - full text of the 1891-92 edition

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Shaun Thomas

"I am the poet of the body, from Leaves of Grass

While I originally chose my particular passage with the intention of analyzing variations in punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks, Whitman's use of slavery as a context in a manuscript version and his subsequent abandonment of that context in the print editions proved to be the more fascinating topic.

A segment of the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass-"I am the poet of the body, / And I am the poet of the soul"-stands as a thematic departure from its antecedent as contained in a manuscript at the University of Texas Humanities Research Center. In the manuscript, which appears to capture the above lines during their conception, the body/soul construction is integral to an attempt by Whitman to conflate the enslaved and enslavers. At the top of the manuscript, the lines "I am the poet of the body, / And I am the poet of the soul" parallel another, more problematic construction of double-identity:

I am the poet of slaves,
and of the masters of slaves
I am the poet of the body
And I am
It appears that Whitman ends in mid-sentence here only to begin again in the lower portion of the page (see transcriptions at end). Though he apparently felt the need to start over, the incompletion of the above passage suggests that he was in some way troubled by his unification of slaves and masters; in fact, he would fail to include "I am the poet of slaves, / and of the masters of slaves" in any of the subsequent print editions. Though any number of reasons can account for Whitman's abandonment of a unified poetical representation of both slaves and masters in his print versions, it is possible that in the early 1850s, the era of the Fugitive Slave Law, which figuratively made identification with a runaway slave a crime against the master, Whitman could not bring himself to publicly experiment with the marriage of slave and master, an act that forces the oppressed and the oppressor to speak with the same tongue. Relating as he did with the fugitive slave in other passages in "Song of Myself," Whitman surely must have claimed affinity with slave owners with at least some uneasiness.

However, it is when one delves into the figurative possibilities of the coupling of slave and master that Whitman's abandonment of the concept becomes puzzling. When one asks who the "I" of "I am the poet of slaves, and of the masters of slaves" might be, the metaphorical possibilities point to Whitman's own project of finding the divergent voices of America within himself and also suggest the duality, or hybridization, that was a central theme of 19th-century racial literary discourse. The "I," of course, represents Whitman the poet, but it also incorporates several other identities-the mulatto, the South, and the American nation-that are comprised of dual or disparate selves.

The mulatto figure served in numerous 19th-century fictional works as the corporal site of racial intersection. William Wells Brown's Clotel (1853), Francis Harper's Iola Leroy (1892), and Charles Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition (1901) are just a few of the texts that use the mulatto figure to examine incoherent racial and national identity. Considering Whitman's bold self-proclamation-"Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion"-it seems that he would have remained committed in print to the mulatto image, born of slaves and the masters of slaves, which so aptly represented the crosscurrents running through the 19th-century South and the American nation.



My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.
I am the poet of the body,
And I am the poet of the soul.
The pleasures of heaven are with me, and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself....the latter I translate into a new

Manuscript, University of Texas Humanities Research Center
I am am the poet of slaves,
and of the masters of slaves
I am the poet of the body
And I am

I am the poet of the body
And I am the poet of the soul

The I go with the slaves of the earth are mine and
The equally with the masters are equally [illegible]
And I will stand between
the masters and the slaves,

And I Entering into both, and
so that both shall understand
me alike.

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Danielle Hatchett

"The disdain ans calmness of martyrs,"

The disdain ans calmness of martyrs,
The mother of old, condemn'd for a witch, burnt with dry wood, her childen gazing on,
The hounded slave that flags in the race, leans by the fence, blowing, cover'd with sweat,
The twinges that sting like needles his legs and neck, the murderous buckshot and the bullets,
All these I feel or am.

I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs,
Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the marksmen,
I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs, thinn'd with the ooze of my skin,
I fall on the weeds and stones,
The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close,
Taunt my dizzy ears and beat me violently over the head with whip-stocks.


My original intent was to analyze the removal of the ellipses from this passage in editions printed after 1855. However, as I began to think about that, I noticed the last line of the passage above it, "All these I feel or am." Whitman is personifying this hounded slave. In analyzing why this proves problematic to me, several questions arose. Is it one thing to sympathize and another to propose to take on that persona of the victim? Why would Whitman choose to do this?

On the Whitman and Slavery website are texts written in or around the same time frame as LOG. It was published some ten years after Frederick Douglass' epic Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and in the same year as My Bondage, My Freedom. Numerous other texts came out of this period that describe the brutality of slavery and the perils of escape. Perhaps this passage and all the others on the slave were Whitman's way of adding his voice to the conversation established by these texts. Admittedly, his poetic voice describing the biting dogs, the oozing skin, and the blows to the head with whip-stocks is hauntingly accurate. However, this doesn't negate the fact that Whitman purporting to be this slave is unsettling. What are his reasons? It was suggested by one critic that he may have felt heroic or morally empowered. Constructions of heroism can be found in passage 10 where he brings the runaway slave into his home, throwing all caution to the wind, while sitting with him, waiting with his fire-lock for trouble? Why did he take so great a risk?

DH Lawrence actually criticizes Whitman for what he considers a feigned sympathy for the slave. He contends that the slave feels his status deep in his soul. He has experienced a soul-killing. Douglass attests to this same sentiment in his Narrative and expressed that this was one of the overwhelming reasons that he risked his life to escape. He was dying there anyway. To the contrary, Lawrence feels that Whitman cannot feel this same thing in his soul because it was never dying in bondage. Instead of trying to personify the enslaved, Lawrence contends, Whitman should be trying to help him fight the power that enslaves him and aid him in the journey his soul must make after he has gained his liberty.

Lawrence's take on it is very interesting. I would agree with him because slavery is such an individualized experience that only another who has been through can understand. There is nothing wrong with sympathizing, for that is what we do today. However, we can't pretend to expressly be that slave because of that very individual soul experience Lawrence spoke of. We can feel it in different ways, because a different kind of slavery exists today in very subversive forms. However, it is unlike that experienced by Douglass. Thus, Whitman saying "I am [this wounded slave]" proves to be an area of contention at best.

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Amy Hobbs

Whitman's "This Moment Yearning and Thoughtful"

As we discussed briefly in class, Walt Whitman's "Calamus" poems differ markedly from the manuscript form to print. The poems also undergo further transformations in subsequent editions of Leaves of Grass. I decided to do a closer examination of his poem "This Moment Yearning and Thoughtful." As Whitman attempts to mask his own desires, the poem loses some of the strength of the manuscript version as he alters it for publication. Now, access to his manuscript allows us a broader view into Whitman's transformation.

The first alteration from manuscript to print is in the first line. Whitman changes "it seems to me there are other men, in other lands, yearning and pensive" to "yearning and thoughtful" in the 1860 publication of Leaves of Grass. The manuscript version's repetition creates a close connection between Whitman and other men that becomes distanced by the change to "thoughtful." While the two words are synonyms, the repetition of the manuscript creates a closer bond. It is this bond between men that is a major theme of the poem. By the 1881 version of the poem, Whitman changes the speaker's "pensive" to "thoughtful," reestablishing the bond. However, elsewhere in the poem, major praise of men is expunged with the dropping, in 1881, of the line "It seems to me they are as wise, beautiful, benevolent, as any in my own lands." It seems that once Whitman felt he needed to drop the more direct praise of men, he wanted to at least reestablish the opening parallel connection of the manuscript.

While the changes to the opening line are subtle between versions, there is one other change from the manuscript to print that shows the suppression of Whitman's desires. In the third line, Whitman changes the word "love" to "attached." The manuscript version has a simplicity of expression that the print versions can never quite reach; Whitman seems to stumble over the change each time. In the manuscript the line is "I should love them as I love men in my own lands." The first time the poem appears in print, the line is changed to "I should become attached to them, as I do to men in my own lands." The change from "love" to "should become attached" is wordier and also loses the parallel expression and repetition of the manuscript form, again lessening the expression of Whitman's bond to men. In the 1881 version, Whitman removes the comma that separates "them" from "as" in what seems to be an attempt to regain the connection of the repetition of the manuscript version . Without the comma, there is a closer connection between Whitman's feelings for these other men, but, as with the first line, it does not approach the manuscript version. With the availability of the manuscript on-line, Whitman readers can now see the full expression of the poem that he himself had to weaken in print versions.

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Dwan Henderson

"The negro holds firmly the reins of his four horses"

1860 Edition (atop p. 37 in text image):

66. The negro holds firmly the reins of his four horses
the blocks swag underneath on its tied-over
The negro that drives the huge dray of the stone-yard
steady and tall he stands, poised on one leg on
the string-piece,
His blue shirt exposes his ample neck and breast, and
loosens over his hip-band,
His glance is calm and commandinghe tosses the
slouch of his hat away from his forehead,
The sun falls on his crispy hair and moustache
falls on the black of his polished and perfect

67. I behold the picturesque giant and love himand
I do not stop there,
I go with the team also.

1867 Edition (bottom of p. 35/ numbered):

66. The negro holds firmly the reins of his four horses
the blocks swag underneath on its tied-over
chain ;
The negro that drives the dray of the stone-yard
steady and tall he stands, poised on one leg on
the string-piece ;
His blue shirt exposes his ample neck and breast, and
loosens over his hip-band ;v His glance is calm and commandinghe tosses the
slouch of his hat away from his forehead ;
The sun falls on his crispy hair and moustachefalls
on the black of his polish'd and perfect limbs.
67 I behold the picturesque giant and love himand I
do not stop there ;
I go with the team also.

1871-72 Edition (no changes)

1881-82 Edition (dashes gonetop of page again)):

The negro holds firmly the reins of his four horses, the block
swags underneath on its tied-over chain,
The negro that drives the long dray of the stone-yard, steady
and tall he stands pois'd on one leg on the string-piece,
His blue shirt exposes his ample neck and breast and loosens
over his hip-band,
His glance is calm and commanding, he tosses the slouch of
his hat away from his forehead,
The sun falls on his crispy hair and mustache, falls on the
black of his polish'd and perfect limbs.
I behold the picturesque giant and love him, and I do not
stop there,
I go with the team also.

1891-' Edition (top of page 38):

The negro holds firmly the reins of his four horses, the block swags
underneath on its tied-over chain,
The negro that drives the long dray of the stone-yard, steady and
tall he stands pois'd on one leg on the string-piece,
His blue shirt exposes his ample neck and breast and loosens over
his hip-band,
His glance is calm and commanding, he tosses the slouch of his hat
away from his forehead,
The sun falls on his crispy hair and mustache, falls on the black of
his polish'd and perfect limbs.
I behold the picturesque giant and love him, and I do not stop
I go with the team also.

The passage above, known as the first in section 13 of "Song of Myself," did not appear until the 1860 edition, as did most of Whitman's passages addressing slavery or Negroes. While this fact alone perhaps speaks both to Whitman's keen market savvy during and after the Civil War and his ambivalence towards the issue and the people prior to 1860, it is Whitman's reductive objectification of this "Negro" and his use of punctuation in each edition that provide much richer discussion material.

Just a page and one-half after the "sweated" and "bruis'd" runaway slave is featured, we are introduced to the Negro in the stone-yard. He is a near-perfect physical specimen, and Whitman notices only externality as is his m.o., highlighting his external features as if filming the frames of a vignette and directing the reader's gaze with punctuation rather than lighting. Note the 1860 edition in which the dash/comma combination guides the reader to pause as Whitman describes in turn the Negro's strength, his "steady" posture, his "ample neck and breast," his "calm and commanding" gaze, his "crispy" hair, and "his polish'd and perfect limbs" in the sunlight. Notice that the 1867 and 1871-72 editions force the reader's unwavering gaze toward this Negro with the dash/semi-colon combination drawing them nearer to a full stop between frames. Yet, as the editions progress, and as the immediacy of the Civil War diminishes, Whitman's need for the audience to stop and take notice of each frame wanes as well; the dashes and semi-colons are replaced by commas entirely in the 1881-82 and 1891-' editions. Could it be that the Negro, or any of the individuals portrayed in Whitman's vignettes, become less arresting? Does the ordinary nature of Whitman's subjects -- these multiple "selves" in the "Song"-- inevitably demand less intense scrutiny? Without altering word choice, is there any method of lessening this intensity other than changing punctuation?

These are important questions, and they do make it possible to reduce the punctuation changes in this section to a mere representation of wholistic change in subsequent editions, rather than an indication of the diminution of the Negro's importance. However, another look at the passage creates some doubt. Whitman's "love" for this being can be questioned, for after his insistence on his "perfection," he labels him a "picturesque giant," a phrase that could be considered dismissive. Within 19th-century American literature, particularly that of the latter half, the word "picturesque" was often used to describe something delightful or charming, but rather quaint; it seemed a generic term given to things briefly noticed as enchanting, but quickly forgotten by the passerby. Not only is the Negro "picturesque," he is also a "giant," literally very large, but also a being of lore and fairy tales. He becomes fictive, a "perfect," "polish'd" "giant" who is gentle and non-threatening despite his "commanding" gaze and obvious physical prowess -- a character who can be "[beheld]" and "love[d]." Thus, perhaps the less forceful punctuation only acts as a further means of reduction.

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Ed Whitley

"To A Stranger" from "Calamus"

Where do you draw the line?: Line Breaks in Whitman

Whitman's poetry is characterized by long, winding lines that often require multiple breaks to fit on a page. Allen Ginsberg built upon Whitman's idea of the long line in his own work and correlated the length of the line with the physicality of the speaking poet: he called a line long enough to be read in one breath, obviously enough, a "breath" and a line with multiple breaks a "strophe," possibly referring to the movement of the Greek chorus across the stage (the "strophe" is what the chorus would say as it moved in one direction with the "antistrophe" being what they said moving in the other). While scholars have argued that the long Whitman line originates everywhere from his experience as a newspaper editor and writer to his admiration for Italian opera, let's consider Ginsberg's insight about the physicality of a line of text as either an internal breath or an external movement along with Donna Haraway's maxim that "bodies tell a contested political history."

The original manuscript of "To A Stranger" from Calamus reads:

You grew up with me, were
   a boy with me, or a
   girl with me,


This single line, divided into three separate strophes, moves back and forth across the page, suggesting a similar movement in the poet's body and the body of his lover between male and female. Now consider how the line appeared in the 18 67 and subsequent print editions and as it appears on-line in the Whitman Hypertext Archive:
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,


What are the implications of a single, continuous breath expressing the gender of the poet's lover? Are we to read print as homogenizing the movement back and forth between gender into a solid, unifying breath, or as pulling those perceived differences into a proximity which the breath is more suited to comment on? Whitman wasn't typesetting his own poetry by the time this line moved from manuscript to print, so we can't know how he intended it to appear. One thing we can know Whitman had no final say in was the 1886 British edition of Leaves of Grass edited by Ernest Rhys. In this edition, Rhys modifies the breaks of several lines by moving the last word above the line to make things fit on the page. This is how the "To A Stranger" line appears in 1886:
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with
What are we to make of this line break which was made with no other political intention than to get the poem to fit on one page? Does the line break disassociate "me" from the mixed-gender lover, or, by putting the line in an odd position which is neither breath nor strophe does the line now challenge the "regular" meter which Sue Lanser argues stands for heternormativity in British Romanticism?

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Stephanie Fitz

"Trickle Drops"

Whitman's revisions of the opening of the poem "Trickle Drops" remove the languid sexual aurora of the manuscript version while emphasizing the imagery of blood and wounding. Exactly why Whitman makes these changes is, of course, unclear. Given the significant alternations between the 1860 and the 1871 editions, these revisions might be seen as a response to charges that the poems newly added to Leaves of Grass were even more vulgar than the original poems ( However, these changes --- especially the emphasis on wounding and blood --- might equally be seen as a response to the suffering of the Civil War.

The first line of the manuscript version, "Trickle, slow drops" (, emphasizes the drop's languid movement since all three words connote slow movement. Further, the pacing of this line emphasizes this torpidity. Although the word "trickle," may be read quickly, the following comma and the long vowel sounds of "slow" and "drops" slow the line's pace.

In this version, Whitman leaves the meaning of "drops" unclear. The second to third lines read, "Candid, from me falling - drip, / bleeding drops,". Here, Whitman defines the drops not as being blood but as moving in the manner of blood. Indeed, the second line highlights the motion of this drop since the term "drip" follows a dash and is followed by a comma.

In the 1860 version, Whitman adds the phrase "O DROPS of me!" before "trickle, slow drops," ( Ending this phrase with an exclamation point introduces a new sense of urgency into the poem. Further, this addition emphasizes the close relation between these drops and Whitman's body thus demanding that these drops be understood as semen, sweat or blood. Again, the second line, which describes these drops as "bleeding," allows this indeterminate meaning to continue. Thus, here Whitman does not remove the possible sexual connotations of his drops at the start of the poem.

The 1871 version rewrites the opening to read, "Trickle, drops! my blue veins leaving! / O drops of me! Trickle, slow drops," ( With this revision, Whitman demands that the drops be seen as blood and that he be seen as wounded; these drops are falling from his veins. Thus, the phrase "O drops of me!" now suggests blood-loss. Further, by adding these three exclamations before the phrase "trickle, slow drops," Whitman substantially speeds the opening pace of the poem and highlights the urgency of the fact that he is bleeding. Indeed, the opening phrase "Trickle, drops!" reads like a command for the drops to begin to move.

The 1891 version maintains the wording of the 1871 version but alters the punctuation in the first phrase: "Trickle drops!" ( The removal of the comma after "Trickle" quickens the pace of this phrase. Now, "Trickle" seems to describe the type of drop. Resultantly, the line now highlights the drop's existence rather than its movement. Thus, the emphasis of these opening lines now lies in the presence of blood itself.

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