Theme Of Legacy In Leaves Of Grass - Literature - Essay

2302 words - 10 pages

Brahnan Lovell
Dr. Barnes
Due November 9, 2018
Legacy in Leaves
In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman sets forth his vision for his legacy in literary writing. Preoccupied with the notion of legacy, we find his words reflecting an issue with death and his own mortality. Many believe these reflections of Whitman’s are pure vanity or an obsession of his legacy. This write off is irresponsible readership, and is unfortunate because there is much more in the depth of his obsession with death and legacy. Whitman’s relationship with these large themes is his way of claiming authority and enabling the reader of his work to see past his mortal life and body, allowing us to see that his work lives on forever even after he has departed the body. It is unusual for a person to be preoccupied with literary longevity. Whitman’s occupation however with authority and poetic legacy are returned to again and again throughout his work, enforcing it to be important and worthy of our attention.
From the beginning of his work in Leaves of Grass, Whitman assumes the position as an authority figure aside from his position as narrator and writer. This position of authority is assumed early in his work, and is carried out until the last lines of his writing. Leading early in the contemplation of his legacy both mortal and literary, Whitman assumes a sameness with the reader from the third line of the work. “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
Rather than focusing on physical properties, Whitman jumps into anatomical and chemical properties. Removing the image of physicality, Whitman draws us smaller into saying that from the deepest levels of function in the human body, we are the same. This sameness is Whitman’s way of associating himself with the reader, as to create a bond eventually used to assume authority to guide the reader. This connection breaks boundaries separating us by skin tone or gender. Atoms are found in every living thing, and the atoms composing us are found in Whitman and are the very same. This connection created by Whitman is powerful and intentional. Finely crafted to draw the attention and focus of the reader into these subjects, Whitman asks of us our full attention.
A preoccupation during one’s life with death and potential legacy is not uncommon. In fact, everyone who has ever lived or will live, will question their impact on the lives of others and find themselves contemplating this larger than life concept. It is uncommon however to write about this topic in grave detail, with an obsession like attention to subject. Whitman effuses this concern in a playful manner but with rich imagery when he says, “I pass death with the dying and birth with the new wash’d babe, and am not contained between my hat and boots.” The containment of the spirit and physical body are completely different according to Whitman. This containment however is represented both physically and spiritually. Referring to articles of clothing, Whitman allows the reader to imagine a pair of boots and hat. A hat is used to cover the head of a person, but it is also used to cradle the brain. The brain being the primary center for creative activity in life, Whitman tells us that a hat can’t control the brain nor contain it, it is a
physical covering which doesn’t bar creativity. The reference to boots is also full of rich imagery. Boots are a covering that are in constant contact with the feet, but most importantly the
grass or whatever surface you are walking on. This connection by an article of clothing to nature is a representation of the separation and togetherness of the two. Rather than saying from head to toe, Whitman asks the reader to imagine a worn pair of boots and hat. The impressions left on these articles are permanent even after the person has left their physical body. Leaving a legacy or reminder of the wearer for generations to come. Whitman’s play on articles of clothing also refer the reader back to his illustrated signature on the title page of the work. Uncommon during this time, Whitman didn’t sign his name like authors of the time period. Rather he included a rendered drawing of himself wearing the very boots and hat he refers to in the passage. This physical representation of the body is his way of impressing his work onto the minds of his readers by assuming an authority on the topic of poetic legacy and spiritual containment.
With a preoccupation on eternity and death regarding his poetic legacy, Whitman uses the word death occasionally as if death itself has a personage. Saying, “and as to you death, and you bitter hug of mortality it is idle to try and alarm me,” Whitman gives death a literal form, almost as if death is a person. Addressing death directly Whitman warns death that it is of no use to alarm or rush him. Whitman seems unphased by death because he knows of an afterlife for body and his work. I believe if we examine this passage carefully we can uncover the hesitation in Whitman’s poetic voice. A hug is a temporary action as is mortality when viewed with an eternal perspective, and a bitter hug with mortality is a flawed relationship with life. Although
direction isn’t described in the passage, I would propose that Whitman is turning physically to the embodiments of death and mortality. Referring to them as “you,” Whitman is giving them person like characteristics as if they are represented in physical form standing before him. He speaks with authority, addressing death and mortality directly from a fearless position. He seems sure in his tone that their efforts to alarm him have failed. This alarm however is one that each reader has been faced with during their lifetime. Whitman knows this and is faced with it too.
Whitman assuming his own voice is his way of assuring himself and others of the aspects of life that he knows. Often in his writings, with the thought of death and legacy hanging over the reader, Whitman assures us that he knows these principles and ideas that he speaks of are true. When Whitman tell us, “I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, then it is to live, and I know it,” it is his way of telling us that he is assured in knowing that death is an essential part of living. This hastening however is an interesting play on words. Whitman’s hastening gives this declaration a pace much faster than the lines before or after. It’s as if he is running out of time, or feels urged to express these thoughts with us quickly. Being lucky to die is not a commonly accepted form of luck, but in this luck, I see Whitman’s preoccupation with life and death. Whitman assumes critical responsibility to inform us of this discovery or information that he is so rightly sure of. His preoccupation with legacy when informing us and reassuring us with I know it could be seen as narcistic or vain. However, if we take Whitman at his word, we will see that he is also concerned about our life and our mortality, our very legacy. Just as atoms are
shared by each other, our legacies to intertwine with life, depending on one another to survive time and eternity.
Whitman’s chronology of his work in Leaves of Grass prepares us for the imagery used in his ending language foreshadowing his own death. Again, preoccupied with the thought of death and his legacy he uses graphic language to show the grimness of death, paired with the hope found in death. “The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.” This foreshadowing is grim and unnatural in a writer’s subject matter. Natural in the way the earth consumes its own, Whitman is using the circling of a hawk to inform the reader of his mortal departure. Such a grim and terrifying fate, Whitman uses humor to ease the heaviness of the topic with the bird accusing him of talking too much and not dying quickly enough. Loitering is a term used for someone in a place and that person being unwanted in that space. Whitman feels his mortality slipping, and the hawk senses his soon departure into the eternities.
Whitman continues this imagery of dying and slipping away by literally burying himself. Mind that he is still very much alive, but he feels the need to explain how his body will decompose into the earth he loves as he departs into the air. “I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun, I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.” Whitman is almost describing a magical act here. Disappearing into thin air as he departs, Whitman is drawn into the air and is said to depart from this life. Shaking his hair, he taunts the runaway sun with his white locks as if to pressure the sun to go down on him, ending his life and drawing the day to a close.
The use of runaway in the passage places a tone that is increasing the speed at this point in the writing. Effusing his very flesh is Whitman’s way of saying that he is imprinted into the earth permanently. This idea of permanence brings peace to Whitman knowing that his physical body will remain on earth with his audience, and his soul will transcend along with his work and poetic legacy.
Whitman ends his writing in Leaves of Grass with two powerful lines that bring a great sense of finality. This finality however is overshadowed by the lines hope and eternal language used by Whitman. “Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you.” Whitman’s preoccupation with his poetic legacy and the veins he used to carry this message throughout his work is evident in these lines ever so clearly. Whitman is telling us that it doesn’t matter where we are in life, whether we are alive or dead, that we can find him regardless if we but search. Again, echoing an authoritative tone as our poetic companion, Whitman implies that he will wait for us, but we must search his words. Encouraging us to search his words is his way of ensuring that his poetic legacy lives on.
Whitman’s preoccupation with his own death and legacy cannot be passed off as just another writer who is self-obsessed with their work and struggling with a larger than life ego. A reading with this takeaway would be a reading wasted, because Whitman’s concern primarily lies in the souls of the readers that consumes his work. How we as his readers and legacy builders choose to take his words and use them to explore our own insecurities and mortality. Whitman transports us to an uncomfortable place, but does so for our benefit and his enjoyment.
Walt Whitman is a writer that is difficult to read if you don’t know what you’re looking for. He prods the reader along in his work and asks us to ask ourselves big questions and that is why he is one of my absolute favorite writers. In Leaves of Grass, the original approach that I took with the first draft of this paper was a bit vague. I carefully selected passages that I believed would yield wonderful close reading and answer these big questions. What I failed to realize was that the scope of my argument or question was to large, to broad, and covered the entire work. My thesis wasn’t strong, and my thoughts were easily bogged down during the writing process because I was biting off more than I could chew.
Focusing on specific passages that narrowly paid attention to what I was after in my thesis was important to me. I really wanted to make sure that the reader understood why I was jumping into the weeds with the close reading I did. Knowing why a writer is asking you to jump in with him/her is important because the reader needs to see what the point is. The last thing I wanted was for my reader to get bogged down in the nitty gritty details. To see the details but understand why they are there and know how they tie in with a well thought out thesis was key for me. Thesis has always been a struggle for me.
In this revision I narrowed my focus sharply but left lots of room for good quality discussion. This idea of death and legacy in this piece is such a strong aspect of what Whitman is really grabbing at when he asks the reader to grapple with such a large idea. These two themes are intertwined but are so complicated. Whitman, I believe to is grappling with these ideas in his
own way in this piece as he works to ensure his legacy after his own death. He speaks from a position of authority on the subject but I believe he too had his own doubts as we all do. This sameness I believe is what he referred to when he compared us to him from the first lines of the work as possessing the same atoms. This doubting and coming to terms with our own death and eternal influence is heavy, and Whitman knows this. What I hope I achieved in this piece was to bring to the surface that Whitman, behind his “ego” and “vanity” was human too. That even though he assumed a role in his work, occupied heavily with his own legacy and death, he too was searching for answers.

More like Theme Of Legacy In Leaves Of Grass - Literature - Essay

How Does Duffy Explore The Theme Of Love In First Love And Valentine? - English Literature, Poetry - Essay

1498 words - 6 pages ... Holly Snow How does Duffy explore the theme of love in first love and valentine? Both the poems first love (FL) and valentine (V) have narrators who have loved and are appreciating that love through reminiscing. As in FL its their very first love who, presumably, they aren’t with anymore being the main centre of attention. With the narrator’s current partner being referred to once in line 10 ‘my lovers eyes.’ In ...

Theme Of Guilt In The Kite Runner - English - Essay

2277 words - 10 pages ... The Theme of Guilt in The Kite Runner If you disguise or mask a sin or wrong doing, it denies the option of staying true to one’s self and the guilt will eventually set in. guilt is one of the many themes presented in the book The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Characters are challenged and struggle with the theme of guilt. Some take the guilt and convert it to make positive changes in their life to somewhat right the wrong they have done ...

Theme Of Fate In Romeo And Juliet - English - Essay

851 words - 4 pages Free ... The theme of Fate in Romeo and Juliet Fate is an invisible and unavoidable force. This force can cause consequences and tragedy in people's lives. In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, fate is a recurring theme that winds its way into Romeo and Juliet's lives. Fate is demonstrated in Romeo's contact with the illiterate servant, the apothecary and finally Romeo and Juliet’s attempts to thwart fate. It is no coincidence that Romeo and Juliet ...

The Theme Of Evil In Shakespeare's Othello

2308 words - 10 pages ... psychological analycists in all time literature. The main reason I feel his writing is so beloved is that despite today's English language being at a higher level than that of the authors', his work still captures and stimulates the imaginations of people all over the world; being appreciated in hundreds of different cultures and languages.Othello is an example of one of these pieces of art; the battle of good and evil is a theme that will always exist in ...

Theme Of Savagery In Lord Of The Flies - High School Essay - English Essay

876 words - 4 pages ... The Lord of the Flies by William Golding is a novel in which the theme of savagery versus civilization is explored. Some British boys are stranded on an isolated island at the time of an imaginary nuclear war. On the island, we see conflict between two main characters, Jack and Ralph, who respectively represent civilization and savagery. This influences the rest of the boys throughout the novel as they delve further and further into savagery ...

The Theme Of Power And Freedom Of Thought In Inherit The Wind - Nelson ENG3U5 - Essay

2059 words - 9 pages ... Damon Karnis Pamela Blair ENG3U5 13 December 2018 On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres: The Theme of Power and Freedom of Thought in Inherit the Wind “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use” - Galileo Galilei Today, the right to freedom of thought is one that many citizens of the first world take for granted, however, many throughout history ...

Theme Of Lust And Love In One Hundred Years Of Solitude - Literary Themes - Essay

1799 words - 8 pages ... are present in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the most prevalent is the theme of the novel is the difference between love and lust. Love and Lust are represented throughout the novel through the different members of the Buendia family as the town develops and the different actions they take throughout the course of their lives. In the novel, Love is represented by actions that stay pure whereas Lust appears when the characters actions become ...

Of Mice And Men Essay Which Discusses The Theme Of Loneliness In The Novel

798 words - 4 pages ... Of Mice and Men EssayIn the novel Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck loneliness is a theme that plays out the entire novel affecting almost every character. Nearly all of the characters display a "handicap" some that aren't as obvious as others. Whether because of a physical or mental handicap, age, class, race, or gender, almost everyone finds themselves outside the structures of social power, and each suffers greatly as a result.Lennie's ...

Beloved: Comming Of Age Essay About The "comming Of Age" Element (theme) In Toni Morrison's Beloved

600 words - 3 pages ... of Denver is portrayed as little more than a child. Denver's hunger for company, seen through her desire to play with the ghost of 124, allow the reader an early grasp at her situation - while Denver is eighteen years of age she still acts as though she was half of that number. Every moment of Denver's life is also spent within the confines of 124, as is seen throughout the novel, the few times that Denver has left 124 occurred early in her life ...

Theme Of Adolescence In The Catcher In The Rye - 10th Grade English - Essay

869 words - 4 pages ... Adolescence is a phase of life that everyone goes through between the ages of twelve and their early twenties. It is the period where adolescents figure out who they are and where their lives are headed as they enter adulthood. J.D. Salinger's best selling novel ​The Catcher in the​ ​Rye​’s protagonist Holden Caulfield is at this phase of life where he is finding out new things about life and himself. ​Through Holden Caulfield, Salinger ...

Theme Of Friendship With Examples - English - Essay

859 words - 4 pages Free ... Friendship is a strong bond between two or more people that allows on another to gain each others trust and moral support. This type of relationship is portrayed in a lot of books, movies, and TV shows, to allow people to look up to them and grow with their own friendships. Out of all of the themes in the book ​The Death Cure, ​I think this theme is portrayed the most because they have to learn to trust each other and know that they will all be ...

Transformation Of Religion In Life Of Pi - Literature - Essay

787 words - 4 pages ... ; each of which has a different meaning to him. Both Pi and the reader explore the importance of religion throughout the many perils he faces at the heart of the Pacific Ocean. The story brought to life by acclaimed director Ang Lee still has many of the same elements that made the book so popular but the theme of religion has almost been 'censored.' Many of the hidden meanings that made the book so intriguing have been removed in an attempt to ...

Theme Of Being Imprisoned In 3 Short Stories - English 1102 - Essay

1052 words - 5 pages ... me that once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it” (263). Due to this entrapment he continues with his meaningless gesture and leaves without a job or a new girlfriend. Even with completely different plot points and scenarios, the three main characters from “A Hunger Artist”, “Miss Brill”, and “A & P”, all share the same theme: the feeling of being trapped to where they are in their lives. Even with the outright blantancy of ...

Theme Of Marriage In Jane Austen's "emma" - UC Davis ENL 155A - Essay

1115 words - 5 pages ... 1 Marriage in Jane Austen’s Emma In her novel, Emma, Jane Austen uses the theme of marriage in a very interesting way. The protagonist of the same name seems to disregard marriage as an option in her own life, yet plays matchmaker in the lives of those around her. Through Emma’s matchmaking schemes and her own indifference to marriage as a woman of means, Austen’s novel suggests a criticism of a society that offers few options to women whom are ...

Theme Paper, Mental Illness In Literature - English III AP, Franklin High School - Essay

1492 words - 6 pages ... Paola Aguirre Ms. Mendoza English III AP 05/02/18 Mental illness in literature Mental illness is a difficult topic to talk about, the next novels illustrate the problem of seeing and recognizing mental illness, and address the issue of which words we use to talk about mental illness. This, is the central theme in “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins and “A rose for Emily” by William Faulkner. The texts ...