Walt Whitman (UNS, 2009)

The Cambridge companion to Walt Whitman, edited by Ezra Greenspan is a useful aid to all Whitman scholars and everyone interested in knowing more about Walt Whitman. This is an assembled group of essays that demonstrates a broad variety of responses to Whitman’s poetry. And at the beginning of the book there is a convenient chronology list indicating all the important facts of Whitman’s life.

Ezra Greenspan talks about the celebration and commemoration of Whitman all around the world. And there is something special in the way that these conferences are held, each in its own way. But, Greenspan claims that Whitman is a true New York poet. He is a celebrator of diversity, poet of ferries and bridges and a master of self-advertising. And furthermore he is a poet of the spoken word, a master of spoken arts. That is why there is something appropriate about the public readings of Whitman in New York City.

Even more interesting to Greenspan is the fact that Whitman always has a wide span of audience. He doesn’t limit himself to America only but spreads the word all over the world, and because of that he is a true global poet. Even the future readers and the “poets to come” are included. That is why he was never fit for the established cultural models. In this context he wanted to ensure an afterlife for himself by recording his own voice while reading his poem America. And in that sense, Ezra Greenspan collected these essays to reflect the variety of Whitman’s audience and diversity of readings. The view points are various, some are interpreting the I-you relationship, Whitman’s interest in the new arts, some deal with the influence on feminist movements, or on Latin America.

This book is a gift for the University of Novi Sad from Karen Karbiener and her WhitmaniaNS.

Calamus 22  (To a Stranger)

PASSING stranger! you do not know how longingly I
look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking,
(It comes to me, as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with
All is recalled as we flit by each other, fluid, affec-
tionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me, or a girl
with me,
I ate with you, and slept with you—your body has
become not yours only, nor left my body mine
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as
we pass—you take of my beard, breast, hands,
in return,
I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you
when I sit alone, or wake at night alone,

I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.


Странче у ПРОЛАЗУ! Ти не знаш колико те чежљиво гледам,

Ти мора да си онај којег сам тражио или она коју сам тражио (дође ми као у сну,)

Негде сам сигурно живео радостан живот с тобом,

Сећање се вратило док се мимоилазимо, непостојани, нежни, чедни, сазрели,

Одрастао си са мном, био дечак са мном или девојчица са мном,

Јео сам са тобом и спавао са тобом – твоје тело је постало не твоје само и моје тело није остало моје само,

Уживам у твојим очима, лицу, телу док се мимоилазимо, а ти у мојој бради, недрима, шакама заузврат,

Ја не треба да говорим са тобом – ја треба да мислим на тебе када седим сам или кад се будим ноћз сам,

Ја треба да чекам – ја не сумњам да треба да те сретнем опет,

Ја треба да се постарам да те не изгубим.

This is just a draft version, but it was a great challenge  to translate Whitman’s poetry. It is even more interesting to see him written in Cyrillic! Some of the problems I encountered was the translation of the construction I am to. The to infinitive could be regarded as a future action (like will) as well as an imperative mood (instead of should), the trouble was to decide what Walt wanted to say. Maybe someone out there has some suggestions?

History of Calamus 22

First time the poem To a Stranger was presented to a reading audience was in a 1860 edition of “Leaves of Grass”, under the name of Calamus 22. From that very edition down to the last “Death-bed” edition the form of the poem hasn’t changed much. Or should I better say that there are no striking changes…

There are a few dashes in this first publication of the Calamus poems, and Whitman decided to change this when he published his Calamus poems for the fourth time in the 1881-82 edition of “Leaves of Grass”.  The dashes made really nice pauses, almost like they’re saying “don’t stop now, wait ’till you hear this!”. Walt Whitman was a true visualistic person, so other than giving the poem a good rhythm, it also looked good.

The whole word passing at the beginning of the poem is capitalized, and I like the way this gives importance to the fact that he is just passing by. It is giving meaning to the moment, emphasizing that things are passing right by, that we have to stop and think, seaze the moment. Carpe diem! It also presents a classical romantic idea that everyone have their pair somewhere in the world. And like the legend says we are ment to look for that other part of us for eternity. The period of Whitman’s life and love with Fred Vaughan, his first known lover, was quite influential on his poetry at that time. He was just opening up, expressing his true feelings for the first time, not hiding anything. Completely exposed.

Walt Whitman’s America by David S. Reynolds is trying to reconstruct the life and times of, as it states, “one of America’s most representative poets”. Furthermore it gives a wider historical background to his life and writings. But Walt Whitman’s poems do not fall into one single historical category. Not even in a double or a triple one for that matter. As Whitman himself stated, he had a deep interest in all that surrounds a writer, his age, land, environment, all the contexts that are influential in any possible way. For that reason this book explores his influences, early works, the politics and the social crisis of that time, the eroticism in his poetry as well as science, religion and the visual arts which all had a great effect on him. All in all, David S. Reynolds wanted to express his love for Whitman’s poetry by recreating his life and works in a historical context putting the focus of this book on the great love of a poet for his country.

A live oak

According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the live oak is any of several American evergreen oaks noted for its extremely hard tough durable wood. You could say that it’s a powerful symbol of strength and you wouldn’t be mistaken. But if I asked someone from Texas what live oak means to him, I would probably get an answer: “Beer!”

Live oak brewery

Since most people from Serbia are not acquainted to the finest beers of the North American continent, an average Serbian would just shrug his shoulders to the same question. What was interesting for me was the fact that it is not like any oak I have ever seen around here. Its massive structure is impressing, but what is even more interesting is the moss growing on the trees giving them a striking appearance.


(Ancient live oak trees in Georgia)

“I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,

All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,

Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green,

And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,

But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its lover near—for I knew I could not.

And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,

And brought it away—and I have placed it in sight in my room,

It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,

(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)

Yet it remains to me a curious token—it makes me think of manly love;

For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,

Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend, a lover near,

I know very well I could not.”

(Calamus, 1860)


Whitman speaks of a tree that is alone, solitary, isolated in Louisiana without a lover near.  There lies a different, more homoerotic aspect behind the lines, besides mere solitude. He mentions that the oak reminds him of manly love, of a person who is waiting for his lover and even the branches look rude and lusty to him. Indicative enough…


(Marko Skrbic photography)

Some time ago I made a promise to myself… Actually a few of them, some kind of a New Year’s resolution. “I will try to write a letter to one of my favorite illustrators (Brian Froud), I will finally stop biting my nails and I will definitely become a blogger.” I’m starting that letter for the hundredth time now, my nails are getting shorter and shorter, but at least I have this blog!

“Trippers and askers surround me,
People I meet…. the effect upon me of my early life…. or the ward and
city I live in…. or the nation,
The latest news…. discoveries, inventions, societies…. authors old and new,
My dinner, dress, associates, looks, compliments, dues,
The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,
The sickness of one of my folks – or of myself…. or ill-doing…. or loss
or lack of money…. or depressions or exaltations,
They come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself.”

Song of Myself. (1855)

Try reading it without the ellipses… It’s just not the same. Not only the words, but the design of the sentences as well talks about the connection between the physical and the spiritual. Whitman was trying to put his soul on paper, to connect the two, to make you read his thoughts. In the 1891 “Death-bed” Edition of Leaves of Grass he omits the ellipses and only then do we see how this passage becomes harder to relate to. The personal and individual touch is lost, the pauses he deliberately prolonged are gone and the magic is just not there any more.