Tuesday, February 21, 2012

1860 and 1855 Song of Myself Comparison.

I believe the principle difference between Whitman's 1860 and 1855 versions of Song of Myself is the stylistic tone employed in each text. Whitman's latter version seems invested in language similar to Milton's; each phrase seems to dwell in a kind of theatrical pageantry, it is overblown, epic. This is by no means a criticism of Whitman, indeed that the poem lends itself to such a genre is surely a compliment. That said I find the earlier version to be presented in a more intimate and accessible way. Let me quote an example from the begginning of each poem:


I, musing, late in the autumn day, gazing off south-

Alone, held by the eternal self of me that threatens
         to get the better of me, and stifle me,
Was seized by the spirit that trails in the lines
In the rim, the sediment, that stands for all the water
         and all the land of the globe. 


I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,

Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their
parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

 Firstly the content of each opening stanzas are vastly different. They appear to be unique works of poetry, rather than one a revision of the other. Notice Whitman's use of caesura- the break in a text. The use of comma is used for different ends in Whitman's revision of the poem. We are all well acquainted with Whitman's use of cataloguing, however the latter version uses the comma to add an air of significance and authority to the text, alongside Whitman's trademark indexing of imagery. 
It is because of this difference in punctuation that I contend Whitman's revision of Song of Myself was intended to be a more high-brow and literary version of the first. He is aligning his poem within the spectrum of epic poetry, and in doing so, I believe, abandons the intimacy and buoyancy which his original embraces. While it would be fatuous to criticise the latter version on these grounds, I find more inspiration and enjoyment in a poem who engages in language less distant and ornate. As the prententious drone at a sold out gig would say; I liked his early stuff better.


1 comment:

  1. Fatuous or not . . . I agree that there is something lost (obviously), something significant . . . what other signs do you see of W moving "away" from the intimate and toward the literary?