whitman

Walt Whitman

O Captain!

Walt Whitman Biography

The Walt Whitman Archive

Library of Congress’s Whitman and the Civil War

Disunion: Inside Walt Whitman’s Notebook

Lincoln and Whitman

Whitman’s own 1890 recording of “America”

“Walt Whitman Thinks You Need New Jeans” by Seth Stevenson

About Levi’s — What about “America” relates to Levi’s brand? To blue jeans? Why would Levi’s use this poem to advertise its company, brand, and product? What words or images does Levi’s want us to associate with their brand and product? Or, what about Whitman would Levi’s want us to associate with their brand and product?

Like many Americans, Whitman and his family daily checked the lists of wounded in the newspapers, and one day in December 1862 the family was jolted by the appearance of the name of ” G. W. Whitmore” on the casualty roster from Fredericksburg. Fearful that the name was a garbled version of George Washington Whitman’s, Walt immediately headed to Virginia to seek out his brother. Changing trains in Philadelphia, Whitman’s pocket was picked on the crowded platform, and, penniless, he continued his journey to Washington, where, fortunately, he ran into William Douglas O’Connor, the writer and abolitionist he had met in Boston, who loaned him money. Futilely searching for George in the nearly forty Washington hospitals, he finally decided to take a government boat and army-controlled train to the battlefield at Fredericksburg to see if George was still there. After finding George’s unit and discovering that his brother had received only a superficial facial wound, Whitman’s relief turned to horror as he encountered a sight he would never forget: outside of a mansion converted into a field hospital, he came upon “a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, &c., a full load for a one-horse cart.” They were, he wrote in his journal, “human fragments, cut, bloody, black and blue, swelled and sickening.” Nearby were “several dead bodies . . . each cover’d with its brown woolen blanket.” The sight would continue to haunt this poet who had so confidently celebrated the physical body, who had claimed that the soul existed only in the body, that the arms and legs were extensions of the soul, the legs moving the soul through the world and the hands allowing the soul to express itself. Now a generation of young American males, the very males on which he had staked the future of democracy, were literally being disarmed, amputated, killed. It was this amputation, this fragmenting of the Union—in both a literal and figurative sense—that Whitman would address for the next few years, as he devoted himself to becoming the arms and legs of the wounded and maimed soldiers in the Civil War hospitals. By running errands for them, writing letters for them, encircling them in his arms, Whitman tried, the best he could, to make them whole again. — The Walt Whitman Archive

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