Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 9th Nov, 2009

Erin for 11/10

The prompt for this week reminded me of something I had thought about while reading about the ARG being sponsored by Levi’s right now (the GO FORTH treasure hunt game that goes along with those commercials). In the game someone was given an 1882 edition of Leaves of Grass to use as a cipher for one of the clues. I’m sure that 1882’s are easier to come by so that’s why it was used, but my initial reaction was “What? Why the heck would they use that edition, I didn’t even know that one existed!” We have talked about the “deathbed” 1892 edition, the “Walt Whitman, recently immigrated from an unknown planet” 1855 edition, and the “strange” 1867 edition, but not really much else. So I went on the Whitman archive, and read “about” section for that edition, and then I felt kind of dumb. The 1882 edition and the 1892 edition are basically the same; there are no significant changes to the text. I may have missed this in class somewhere, so maybe this is only news to me, but I found that interesting. I also found it interesting that apparently the 1882 edition was set to follow an almost narrative pattern. The clusters were arranged in such a way as to have a definite build-up, with Drum-Taps as the climax, and then resolution in the Lincoln poems and other following clusters. Originally my perception of the various editions is that they should be looked at as specific representations of different times in Whitman’s life. He adjusted each edition to his particular purpose and message at that time, so it seems logical to view them that way. Knowing that the deathbed edition doesn’t follow this thread complicates things. Many people view this edition as the “definitive” edition, and yet fundamentally it’s different from all the previous ones. The fact that it’s based in a narrative, and none of the other editions are, makes it harder to compare to the rest of them. There’s just a completely different motivation going into the assembly and ordering of this book. In essence, I don’t ever think we can say that there’s a definitive Leaves of Grass. They each mean different things to their different times. Personally, I like the 1855 Song of Myself better, but as I mentioned in my last post, the Song of Myself from 1892 is powerful in its own ways to me as well. There’s so much layering between each of these editions that by picking one of them as the text that we should go with above all the other texts seems rather unfortunate and narrow minded. I like the idea, even though it’s a frustrating one, of having to just pick things out of every edition, taking them each for what they are at each separate time. Whitman gave us something that no other poet has with these multiple works, and I think it’s important that instead of trying to whittle it down, we appreciate it in its “multitudes.”



It is interesting that you note the narrative pattern in the 1882 edition. That got me thinking that maybe Whitman wanted the narrative to reflect the progression in the thinking of Whitman as he became older. Since Drum-Taps is considered the climax in this narrative section, perhaps Whitman considered his Civil War years in the DC area to be the most important part of his existence. But, I too agree with you that there is not a definitive version of Leaves of Grass, because each one was affected by the times and culture that it was written in.

I think it was briefly mentioned, either in class or in one of our readings, that the “Deathbed” edition wasn’t really any different from its immediate predecessor, but it’s super easy to miss single mentions like that so don’t worry!

The idea of picking and choosing from the different editions of LoG appeals to me a lot. I mean, yeah, it would be difficult to pick and choose to establish what you see as a good Whitman reading list. BUT, you’re already signing yourself up for lots of work and thought when you decide that there has to be some kind of definitive reading list beyond any single edition. So, I think it’s a wonderful idea.

Just glancing at the Whitman Archive site, I can get a glimpse of the narrative that, apparently, was intended. Actually, if you have Whitman’s biography in mind, it flows pretty darn well. Idealism starts it off, platonic love turns into “calamus” love, the Civil War poetry precedes the Lincoln elegies, etc. That aspect of the edition, I think, makes a strong case for it to be the “definitive” edition. I mean, it has it all. True, some of them are different from earlier editions, but this is put together in a way that screams “completion.” I wonder: is the order of the sections in the ’92 version the order in which they came out, or was the order altered to fit the biography?

That was really a curiosity-piquing post, Erin. Good stuff :-)

First and foremost:
“ARG being sponsored by Levi’s right now (the GO FORTH treasure hunt game that goes along with those commercials)”
WTF??!!!!!!! You may need to elaborate about this in class. And maybe I’m a “n00b” but what does ARG stand for?


I fully agree with this part of your post: “There’s so much layering between each of these editions that by picking one of them as the text that we should go with above all the other texts seems rather unfortunate and narrow minded.”

I feel as though the only proper way to read Whitman is to AT LEAST read both the 1855 and the deathbed edition. Without 1855, I feel, any reading of Walt Whitman is incomplete. To only read the 91 and 92 edition in isolation seems to me like only listening to the songs on the radio by a certain musical artist but ever actually buying (or illegally downloading) their CD. Much like that song on the radio, Whitman has become known through his deathbed edition, but we all know (as fans) that there is so much more depth and variety to his work than just this one edition.

And that’s my two cents.

I agree with Allison on this one. As I blogged about, I feel that the 1892 version of Leaves only has so much weight to it in my mind because of the amount we’ve studied leading up to this. I think that there is no way to grasp quite the achievement the deathbed edition is without having the firm basis of Whitmanic study on which to stand. Especially when one looks at Leaves as such a living breathing text that has changed and morphed so much with time. It just feels like to only grasp onto one edition of Leaves is to do the rest of the body of work an injustice.

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