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...