You will read the 4 poems by Walt Whitman that I have listed below. After reading the poems, answer the following questions for each poem and come to class prepared to discuss them
Focus Questions for Walt Whitman’s Poetry
I Hear America Singing
What Whitman has in mind there are not the actual work songs once associated with various trades and kinds of physical labor, but something more subtle. What would you say this poem is really about?
A feeling of acceptance, even of contentment, runs through the sounds of these many voices. Remember the long hours and small pay of tradespeople and manual laborers in the nineteenth century, would you say that the poet is romanticizing or idealizing their lot? Or would you say that the songs he hears are expressions of independence and joy in life: Explain your response, and support it with specific references to the poem.
If the poet of Leaves of Grass were alive today, what kinds of singing do you think he would hear: In what ways would theses “songs” be different from those he heard in his own time? In what ways would they be the same as Whitman heard? Explain your answers with references to Whitman’s poem.
When I Heard the Learned Astronomer
What do you think might have been the reason for the speaker’s unexpected reaction (“[he] became tired and sick”)? How is this reaction typical of the Romantic attitude toward a scientific dissection of nature?
What is the significance of the poem’s final line? What do you think the poet gained from watching the stars in “perfect silence” that he couldn’t get from the astronomer?
A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim
Find the details that identify the setting of the poem.
Why, given the circumstances of this particular war, might the poet have seen this face (that has the features of “the Christ himself”) on one of the dead soldiers?
Whitman’s poetry, technically speaking, is all of a piece-a body of work easily identified by rolling cadences, by catalogues of things and activities, and by self-assertive expostulations. What most distinguishes one of his poems from another lies in the tone; in modulations of voice that indicate his attitude toward different subjects, and in a kind of timing that suggests that the reader is overhearing a man’s conversation with himself. How would you describe the tone of this poem? What are the main elements that support your description?
Song of Myself, I
How does Whitman suggest that the self he is celebrating is not just his individual self but also a representative and shared universal self?
In what ways does Whitman's celebration of individuality and belief in the existence of a shared universal self or soul reflect the beliefs of the Transcendentalists?
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