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American romanticism, again.

I. Romantic Lyric

THE DEFINITION OF "ROMANTICISM" MAY BE (LIKE ALL--ISMS) A MATTER of great debate, but little of that debate has had much to do with American poetry. When in 1924 Arthur O. Lovejoy proposed abandoning the term as a literary historical frame, complaining that "the word 'romantic' has come to mean so many things that, by itself, it means nothing," nineteenth-century American poetry was not one of those too many things. (1) When Rene Wellek responded to Lovejoy in 1949 by arguing that one must conceive of period terms "not as arbitrary linguistic labels nor as metaphysical entities, but as names for systems of norms which dominate literature at a specific time of the historical process," the norms that dominated American poetry in the nineteenth century were not one of the systems he had in mind. (2) When these founders of the history of ideas and of modern comparative literary study talked about Romanticism, it is safe to assume that they meant European Romanticism, and when Anglo-American literary critics today continue to talk about Romanticism--or when the upper case noun becomes a lower case adjective (as in, "the romantic novel," or, most often, "romantic poetry"), or even when it is shortened to Northrop Frye's stenographer's shorthand, "Rcsm," which as Anahid Nersessian has recently reminded us, was Frye's unpublished vision of a Romanticism neither too capacious nor too normative, "a low adjustment utopia"--it is safe to assume that the term refers to the history of ideas that stretched from mid eighteenth--and nineteenth-century German idealism through late eighteenth--and nineteenth-century European national revolutions (especially the French) and that found a literary home in British poetics. (3)

In departments of English, we know that when we talk about Romantic Poetry we don't just mean Blake and Wordsworth and Coleridge and Keats and Shelley and Byron but also Hemans and Scott and Smith and Barbauld and Baillie and Bums and Clare and the list goes on--or at least the list of British, Irish, and Scots poets continues to expand. Romanticists themselves may admit that their original canon was framed by a Paris editor and swiftly republished in Philadephia (and so, as Meredith McGill points out, was transatlantic from the start), or that expressive poetics actually derived from the Orientalist Sir William Jones's Sanskrit and Persian translations (and so, as Aamir Mufti points out, was Orientalized from the start), or that the historical coincidence of the emergence of Romanticism and the middle of the Middle Passage was no coincidence (and so, as Edouard Glissant and many others have pointed out, was invested in the emergence of the worst forms of modernity from the start), but those admissions have not made much difference in the way we tell the story of Romanticism and almost no difference in the way we conduct the business of the profession of literary studies. (4) When we do speak of American Romanticism, we tend to mean Transcendentalism, and by Transcendentalism, we tend to mean Emerson and the writers in conversation with his heady mixture of German philosophy, British poetics, and American pragmatism: Fuller, Douglass, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, and, as the ever perverse exception: Poe. This is to say that just as "Romanticism" can still dependably refer to a small canon of late eighteenth--and early nineteenth-century British poets, "American Romanticism" can be counted on to mean what continues to be taught as the canon of nineteenth-century American literature, which, as Maurice Lee has recently shown, remains (like British Romanticism) stubbornly canonical. (5) Though most scholars know that (as the great new Teaching Transatlanticism project launched by Linda Hughes and Sarah Robbins attests) the old Transcendentalist, mostly white Anglo-American canons are passe, that they mask all sorts of exchange by and through many writers and readers who occupied a much wider and more complex version of the Atlantic World than those canons represent, the canons themselves don't reflect that knowledge. (6) As Meredith McGill wrote almost a decade ago, "literary critics have come late to the study of nineteenth-century writing in transatlantic context.... A tacit or explicit literary nationalism continues to organize departments of English despite the fact that continuities in language and demographics, as well as complexly intertwining histories of publication and of literary form, tug against the often unquestioned binary division of the field into British and American literature." (7) Despite important recent changes in what it is we talk about when we talk about Romanticism, we should also probably acknowledge that as long as it is identified by and with the English language and disciplined by English literary study, that binary division continues to hold, and so American Romanticism may remain as set in institutional stone as have its European and British precursors.

Yet if European Romanticism as both empty signifier and period norm continues to cling to a tremendously influential history of ideas and British Romanticism continues to cling to a set of extraordinarily gifted poets and American Romanticism continues to cling to an all-white cast of remarkably ambitious essayists and novelists, a couple of quirky poets and a so-called "dark romantic," the great majority of the most popular late eighteenth--and nineteenth-century American poets fall into neither canon, except as eponymous stepchildren of British and European Romanticism: the American Wordsworth (Bryant) , the American Elemans (Sigourney), the American Byron (Halleck), the American Landor (Whittier), the American Shelley (Lowell), the American Goethe (Longfellow), and the Black Bums (Dunbar). The honorifics that once tied these American poets to an Old World canon came to exile them from the canon of American literary study (though Dunbar brackets the shadow canon of African-American poetry). What the twentieth-century version of American literary studies understood as Emerson's emphasis on American originality and genius could hardly be said to apply to such obviously derivative verse. (8) That's too bad, since the truth is that Emerson, influential and brilliant as he certainly remains, and Transcendentalism, far-reaching as its effects in American culture may continue to be, were not very important to nineteenth-century American poetry. What was important to American poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries--to Freneau and Wheatley and Barlow and Dwight, to Bryant, Sigourney, Halleck, Whittier, Lowell, Harper, Schoolcraft, Horton, Drake, Longfellow, Oakes Smith, and Plato, as well as to hundreds if not thousands of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century anonymous popular poets and yes, even to Whitman, Dickinson, and Poe--were the verse genres associated with British and European Romanticism (many of those genres, from at least Jones and Goethe forward, themselves borrowed from what Jones called "Asiatick" translations), as well as the genres associated with what Marshall Brown would call "preromanticism," since, for example, Pope's Essay on Man was one of the most popular volumes of poetry sold in America in the first half of the nineteenth century. (9) Yet as over the course of the nineteenth century those verse genres gradually collapsed into one big idea of poetry, and as that big baggy genre of poetry became an increasingly abstract idea that meant so many things it could not mean anything in particular, and as that affectively compelling idea of poetry as everything at once and nothing in particular came to dominate literature over the last three centuries of the historical process, the borrowed genres that were important to its formation have been lost to view.

The idea that poetry is or ever was one genre (closer to the large category of prose than to the waxing and waning category of the novel) rather than a variety of particular genres (the epyllion, the villanelle, the ghazal) is the primary symptom of the long historical process I have called the lyricization of poetry. (10) By "lyricization," I just mean that over the course of the nineteenth century the hierarchy of verse genres gave way to a large idea of poetry that came to be associated with what we now think of as the romantic lyric. The tricky part of that definition are the phrases "came to be" and "we now think of," since the history of lyricization is a long, gradual, and uneven process that involves many stages of thinking about both Romanticism and about the lyric. Perhaps for this reason, there have been numerous misunderstandings of my theory of lyricization. By "lyricization" I do not mean that all poetry has become the personal, subjective expression of the individual. Instead, I'm interested in how and why "we now think of" poetry as personal. I also do not mean that there never were lyrics or are not now lyrics--on the contrary, I mean that various verse genres have slowly merged together and become abstracted so that we now think of almost all poetry as lyric.

The only way to trace this process of abstraction is to tell part of its history, but the substitution of history for categorical structural definition has proven confusing to several literary critics. It is not true that what Jonathan Culler has recently dubbed "the historicist critique of lyric" (to which he attaches my name) seeks "to dissolve the category of lyric to return us to a variety of historical practices." (11) How could any literary historian do that even if she wanted to? When I say that nineteenth-century American poets relied on particular verse genres rather than on the big idea of the Romantic lyric, I do not mean to suggest with Lovejoy that we dissolve a term that has become too capacious or with Wellek that we accept that term as a useful historical norm. What I mean to suggest instead is that stipulative verse genres once functioned as low adjustment utopias rather than as the large utopian abstraction now associated with the large genre of poetry. The truth is that the abstraction of verse genres that took place gradually and unevenly and for a whole host of reasons over the course of the long nineteenth century, the process that I have called the lyricization of poetry, cannot be run like a film in reverse so that the so-called historicist critique renders such genres again in pre-lyricized, original or less abstract outlines: elegies, epitaphs, ballads, hymns, epistles, medleys, drinking songs, sea chanteys, and spirituals emerging in premodern innocence from the ashes of the destruction of the modernizing pollution of an ever-more-idealized lyric norm. What I'm interested in instead is the historical emergence of that norm over the longue duree of modern poetics from the late eighteenth through these first decades of the twenty-first century, the many adjustments that were made along the way, all of which I would place within the period frame of Transatlantic Romanticism, since the systematic work of lyricization that began over three centuries ago is still normative and is also still unfinished business. In its unoriginal ways, nineteenth-century American poetics played a major role in that unfinished business, but because that explicitly transatlantically derivative poetics has not been placed within histories of the romantic lyric, that role has gone unacknowledged.

In his unsurpassed 1953 mini-essay, "The Lyric as Poetic Norm," M. H. Abrams stretched the longue duree of Romanticism even further back, famously writing that "the soaring fortunes of the lyric may be dated to 1651, the year that Cowley's Pindaric 'imitations' burst over the literary horizon and inaugurated the immense vogue of the 'greater Ode' in England." (12) In the spirit of that great, recently departed scholar of Romanticism, I want to think here about "the immense vogue of the 'greater Ode' "not in England but in America, or not exactly in America but in New York, or not in all of New York but in downtown Manhattan, or not in all of downtown Manhattan but in the pages of one downtown short-run newspaper over most of one year roughly two hundred years after the beginning of the lyric's soaring fortunes in the hands of a poet now so identified with Emersonian American Romanticism that to adjust his work into such a local and stipulative frame (what Joseph Rezek has recently dubbed "the aesthetics of provinciality"), to suggest that his work is actually an explicitly belated, derivative form of an Anglicized Greek poetic norm, a continuation of the long eighteenth-and-nineteenth-century abstraction of the ode, is to put American Romanticism--and not incidentally, the theory of the lyric---in a different transatlantic conversation altogether, a conversation in which I would argue that the idea of American poetry was and continues to be invented. (13) Since the story of that invention has not been told, we have been more interested in the ways in which American poets became original and modern and national than in the ways in which they remain derivative, transatlantic, and, in the abbreviated, low-adjustment, even slightly pejorative sense, Romantic.

When, in the late twentieth century, Paul de Man defined apostrophe as the generic definition of the ode, and the ode as paradigmatic for the lyric, he capped off a long history of the supersizing of the ode that had its heydey in the nineteenth century. (14) As poetry came to be thought of as primarily lyric--as opposed to, say, descriptive of affairs of state, as locodescriptive, as epistolary, as elegiac, as satirical, as occasional, as epic or narrative, as dramatic--it also (or so Culler would, also late in the twentieth century, pursue de Man's line to argue) might be reduced to a series of embarrassing, pretentious, or just plain addled apostrophes to dumb objects. (15) Not only is such address purely fictive, but it tends to claim the conviction of its fictions, becoming, as Barbara Johnson put it (even later in the twentieth century), "a form of ventriloquism through which the speaker throws voice, life, and human form into the addressee, turning its silence into mute expressiveness." (16) While the point of this view of odic lyric address is that it is represented speech pitched toward what cannot speak back, the view also supposes that doing so in turn supposes an imagined response on the part of that non-respondent. The fiction of "the speaker" that these late twentieth-century lyric readers deconstructed had the advantage of making poems accessible to a wide range of readers across a wide range of historical periods, but it had the disadvantage of making inaccessible the historical complexity of the many verse genres that preceded what we now think of as the Romantic lyric. In his recent Theory of the Lyric, Culler argues that "Jackson [that is, that I] conflates two very different historical operations."

   First, there is the process in the nineteenth century where the
   expressive lyric--lyric as the intense expression of the
   poet--becomes the norm. This is an operation that Abrams describes
   in The Mirror and the Lamp and is what Jackson alludes to in
   speaking of the 'idealized mode of expression' of 'expressive
   romantic lyrics.' Quite different is the critical operation by
   which Anglo-American New Criticism, after the 1940s, takes the poem
   away from the historical author and treats it as the speech of a
   persona. (84)

In this essay, I want to argue that these two apparently different "historical operations" are actually part of the same history; further, the reason that this historical continuity has not been apparent to us is that we have not included nineteenth-century American verse in our understanding of what it is we are talking about when we talk about the Romantic lyric. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I will make this argument through a reading of a moment in the career of Walt Whitman, a poet too often thought to personify the version of Romantic lyricism and American Romanticism I am here arguing against.

2. O Whitman!

If we follow de Man and Johnson and Culler in thinking that apostrophe is central to the ode and that thinking about the ode is central to thinking about the Romantic lyric, no poet would fit the American Romantic lyric generic bill better than Walt Whitman. Whitman is of course usually thought of as the personification of the Emersonian iconoclast, the original genius who smashed American poetry's dependence on borrowed conventions and forged postromantic modern American poetics with his bare hands. (17) But consider "Apostroph," the introductory poem to "Chants Democratic" in the i860 edition of Leaves of Grass (fig. 1). Whitman omitted the poem from later editions; in his marginalia to his copy of the i860 edition, he seems to have crossed out many of the lines before making the note "Take this piece out altogether" accompanied by the small drawing of a pointing hand (a printer's notation). There is practically nothing that the i860 "Apostroph." does not address, and practically no line that does not add a mark of exclamation to the vocative O, often more than once, so that the whole poem becomes an anagram of circles, lines, and dots (O! O! O! O!). Such over-the-top Oing may be an instance of what Randall Jarrell meant when he wrote in 1950 of "how unusually absurd, how really ingeniously bad" Whitman's language can be:

   ... even a line like O culpable! I acknowledge. I expose! is not
   anything you and I could do--only a man with the most extraordinary
   feel for language, or none whatsoever, could have cooked up
   Whitman's worst messes. For instance: what other man in all the
   history of this planet would have said, "I am a habitan of Vienna"?
   (One has an immediate vision of him as a sort of French-Canadian
   halfbreed to whom the Viennese are offering, with trepidation,
   through the bars of a zoological garden, little mounds of whipped
   cream). (18)

Jarrell's essay is full of such absurd defenses of what he several times calls Whitman's "queer" style, but if despite Jarrell's riff Whitman's lines strike you as first Charlotte Smith then Wallace Stevens, that may be because their speech genre is not the pathetic plea of the foreign curiosity, but the patent sociolect of the Romantic ode, which as de Man and Culler have pointed out, came to be understood in the twentieth century as lyric addressivity. I'm using the more awkward 'addressivity' here rather than 'address' in order to encourage us to imagine a historicity implicit in that address. The addressivity invoked by and attributed to the Romantic ode and later attributed to the lyric tout court does suppose what Bakhtin would call a "responsive understanding," but it is a "silent responsive understanding," or what he also calls "responsive understanding with a delayed reaction." (19) The mid nineteenth-century conventions of a genre that demanded that there be no response except privately collective reading exaggerated both Bakhtin's notion of "speech" and his idea of "delay"--so much so that the defining generic form of the nineteenth-century ode may be said to be the privately read printed text to which any personal vocal response (other than recitation of the text itself) seems at best as fanciful as the offer of little mounds of whipped cream, at worst as deluded as shouting "Yo! Here I am!" in answer to "O women!" or "O fathers!" Or "O you men of passion and the storm!"

But if we are not expected to answer the ode in our own voices, if we feel awkward when we turn silent reading into one person's speech, it does not follow that we then read as if we were doing so, or that nineteenth-century poets wrote as if they fantasized such a response. The fact that any response to odic invocation would be an expressive violation of the genre's mimetic codes of reading means that apostrophes to flowers or to space or to the hum of mighty products or to teeming cities or to the race of the future or to beauty or to sarcasms or to Democracy or to lips or to you (that is, to the figures of address in "Apostroph") are not best understood in the metaphorical vocabulary of the "as if." In the ode's epistemology, we don't need an "as if" because we know that the poet is not speaking and we know that we are not supposed to talk back. Mute objects of address--leaves, birds, God--are no more silenced or ventriloquized than is the poem's reader, whose interdicted response determines the pathos of this form of reading. Just imagine if the States had talked back in i860 when hailed (in line 53 of "Apostroph.") as "O union impossible to dissever!"

You may be thinking that I have just cheated by blurring the distinction between persons and personified abstractions, and that I am steering us toward familiar representational questions in Whitman: How can the one represent the many? How do I become a We? Even if you're right, I would say that I'm erring in this direction in order to insist on the generic indexical conventions that determine that blurring and that allow those representational questions to surface in the first place. And I'm suggesting that the effect of Whitman's promiscuous mix of persons and abstractions exploits those conventions rather than circumvents or abolishes them. You will recognize the latter idea as a widely held critical and popular view of Whitman's writing, which almost everyone agrees to call lyric poetry while also agreeing that it does not do what Romantic lyric poetry does. Kerry Larson, for example, in 1988 cited Mill's famous distinction in 1833 in "Thoughts on Poetry and its Varieties" to the effect that "eloquence is heard, poetry is overheard. Eloquence supposes an audience; the peculiarity of poetry appears to lie in the poet's utter unconsciousness of a listener," and replied that "Whitman does not wish to be read this way." Maybe not, but how else may what we now understand as postromantic lyric poetry be read? Neither Larson nor any other critic in the twentieth century has, as far as I know, claimed that Whitman did not write lyric poetry. "Beyond overthrowing the metrical contract," Larson wrote, "much of the revolutionary impact of Leaves of Grass entails breaking the mediations conventional to the fictional contract by devising a mode of address able to traverse the gap between intimate seductiveness and generic inclusiveness." (20) Let Larson's comment stand for a long line of American critics who regard Whitman as creator of a liberal self that is universal; at least Larson considers such creation a problem of genre. But what if the fictional contract of at least one of Whitman's genres--what I've called the contract of the ode's addressivity--implies that generic inclusiveness itself is or may easily become intimate? And what if that intimacy depends on a pathos of collective silent reading rather than on personal speech?

If we return to the passage from Mill that Larson takes to define the sort of poetry that Whitman does not write--the passage to which most critics in the twentieth century return for a definition of the lyric--we find that intimacy (both uncensored self-revelation and a recognition of that revelation that goes without saying) is just what this version of poetic audience supposes. Immediately after the famous distinction between the heard and the overheard, Mill writes:

   All poetry is of the nature of soliloquy. It may be said that
   poetry which is printed on hot-pressed paper and sold at a
   book-seller's shop, is a soliloquy in full dress, and on the stage.
   It is so; but there is nothing absurd in the idea of such a mode of
   soliloquizing.... The actor knows that there is an audience
   present; but if he acts as though he knew it, he acts ill. (21)

This less-often cited part of Mill's argument emphasizes an aspect of the genre that seems to have been forgotten by twentieth-century lyric theory. Pace Culler, the separation between the historical poet and the fictional speech of a persona was a live question at least a hundred years before the New Critics, though because we have mistaken twentieth-century lyric reading practices for nineteenth-century lyric reading practices, we haven't been able to attend to the important differences between them. For Mill, poetry is not actually overheard; it is not even read as if it were overheard; it is read by people who agree that what Mill elsewhere tellingly calls "the very culture of the feelings" requires silent acknowledgment. We are the initiates of that culture because the poet's performance for us is an open secret--an intimacy that circulates. Paper on stage. Because the intimacy supposed by lyric address--if you did not know it was on stage--would feel like a personal violation, it would have to be be mediated by metaphors of overhearing, eavesdropping, or voyeurism. And such metaphors manage to make the notion of paper on stage less absurd, since they make that paper into a person. This is as much as to say that the mode of address made to traverse the gap between persons and personified abstractions, between persons and what passes between them in the nineteenth century did not violate the conventions of lyric poetry; that mode was what we now include in our generic definition of lyric poetry. Whitman did not share our ignorance--in fact, his understanding of the phenomenology of Romantic lyric reading exploited exactly Mill's version of lyric reading as an intimate public sphere cunningly adjusted to the requirements of its audience. If we follow Lisa Gitelman (who also follows me) in defining genre as "a mode of recognition instantiated in discourse," we could say that Whitman counted on that audience to recognize a derivative discourse and to play along with his fashionably unoriginal uses of the genre of the transatlantic Romantic ode. (22)

The poem now known as "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" was Whitman's most explicit treatment before the Civil War of the particular genres of address associated with the Romantic ode; it was also his most perverse remediation of that genre for a very particular public, namely the readers of the Saturday Press from the end of 1859 until the inauguration of the war toward the end of i860, when the paper stopped publication. (23) Whitman's reworking of the conventions of odic address is so explicit in "Out of the Cradle" that it verges on parody, if parody were possible without irony--and it was in the nineteenth century. In fact, parody (or, literally, an ode parallel to another ode) was exactly the response common in the nineteenth century, a performance that made explicit the ways in which genres functioned as modes of collective recognition. As Carolyn Williams writes, "parody serves a historical function, for often it is the best way to learn about something now estranged, invisible, or unrecognizable," especially when that parody takes the form of performance, as it did when (as we shall see), Whitman compared his ode to "the method of Italian opera." (24) In 1859 and i860, the collective recognition "Out of the Cradle" was deeply involved in the complexities of delay, of transmission, of absence, of fantasy, of witnessed solitude, of authenticating recognition and misrecognition that characterized the nineteenth-century ode's imaginary address. It is exemplary of all the nineteenth-century generic tendencies that the abstraction of "the Romantic lyric" would seem to erase. This last point is perhaps best made by show-and-tell. Consider the newspaper page on which "A Child's Reminiscence" (the original title of "Out of the Cradle") first appeared:

Now consider the first section of the poem on the first section of that page, what in 1859 was called the "Pre-Verse":

   Out of the rocked cradle,
   Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle,
   Out of the boy's mother's womb, and from the nipples of her
   Out of the Ninth Month midnight,
   Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where the child,
     leaving his bed, wandered alone, bareheaded, barefoot,
   Down from the showered halo,
   Up from the mystic play of shadows, twining and twisting as if
     they were alive,
   Out from the patches of briers and blackberries,
   From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
   From your memories, sad brother--from the fitful risings and
     fallings I heard,
   From under that yellow half-moon, late-risen, and swollen as if
     with tears,
   From those beginning notes of sickness and love, there in the
     transparent mist,
   From the thousand responses of my heart, never to cease,
   From the myriad thence-aroused words,
   From the word stronger and more delicious than any,
   From such, as now they start, the scene revisiting,
   As a flock, twittering, rising, or overhead passing,
   Borne hither--ere all eludes me, hurriedly,
   A man--yet by these tears a little boy again,
   Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,
   I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter,
   Taking all hints to use them--but swiftly leaping beyond them,
   A reminiscence sing. (25)

The effect of the series of introductory prepositions is to postpone their grammatical object and the sentence's subject for so long that we almost miss them. The line "From such, as now they start ..." seems to mark a break in the simple accretion of prepositional phrases, but what sort of break is it? "From such" wants to refer to the long list that precedes it, but what are--or were--"they"? The immediate, even abrupt metaphorical conversion of whatever "they" are to a flock of birds "passing, / Borne hither--" makes their grammatical situation even more difficult to grasp--though here grammar may be mimetic, since the anxious "--ere all eludes me, hurriedly, " borrows its anxiety from the image of the twittering, rising, passing flock. The effect of this borrowing is to make my imposition of individual psychology here exactly wrong. "A man--yet by these tears a little boy again," feels like a difficult rhetorical birth, the image of the human emerging from the images of birds which are themselves images of thoughts or memories or, to refer them forward rather than back, of tears. Mill's "culture of the feelings" becomes in these lines an intricately mediated staging of a self "now" and "again" present or absent, barely selved before it is thrown back on the limit of "the waves" and into the limitations of "song." But as we look at the page on which these lines were printed, it is also clear that this apparently intimate revelation is a performance on the front page of a newspaper. Whitman's vocational ode was front-page news or front-page entertainment, next to "THE LOVE OF A PUPPET," "A Christmas Story" by Thomas Bailey Aldrich. For modern readers accustomed to thinking of Whitman's idealized, utopian modes of address that fell on deaf ears in the nineteenth century, the more surprising revelation may be that Whitman's poem turned into a lesson on how to respond in one newspaper to (of all things) a Romantic ode.

If Whitman's "Pre-Verse" makes the process of personification into a precondition for voice and verse rather than the other way around, the rest of the poem goes on to turn the convention of overheard speech into a perversely metadiscursive performance of what literary criticism would come to call "a reading" of a Romantic ode. That last phrase is partly Michael Warner's, and he uses his part of it to describe the way Whitman queers poetic address, thus offering "a provocation against the ideology of self-characterization." (26) Warner's insight is that this provocation is a result of Whitman's exploitation of the conventions of the print public sphere, "a discourse context defined by the necessary anonymity and mutual nonknowledge of writer and reader, and therefore [by] the definitional impossibility of intimacy" (291). When Whitman writes "you"--as in "what I assume you shall assume," or "you do not know how longingly I look upon you" or "You lithe matador in the arena in Seville" or "thus, touching you, would I silently sleep and be carried eternally"--we know that he is not really speaking to us. Especially for poems like "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" and "As I Ebb'd" that thematize their own circulation, it seems crucial to keep in mind that the discourse situation that they invoke solicits an intimate recognition in public, not only because Whitman cannot know us personally--and this is what Peter Coviello has called, after Warner, Whitman's "stranger intimacy," an "intimacy that bypasses familiarity"--but also because he is, literally, not speaking. (27) In "Out of the Cradle," Whitman exaggerates the intimate nonknowledge, or the performative fiction of speaking and listening already (as we have seen in Mill) definitional for nineteenth-century poetry in mass print, and he does so not only in the narrative that has made the poem famous as Whitman's vocational self-description, but by calling attention to the paper on and in which his Romantic ode was made public.

Many readers have wondered at the bizarre literalization of poetry as birdsong that happens when Whitman makes birds speak in "Out of the Cradle"; some have suggested that such literal-mindedness about a figure marks Whitman's American difference from Shelley and Keats (who after all can't make their birds talk back). In 1949, Leo Spitzer spent seven pages detailing a history of birdsong in poetry before concluding that in "Out of the Cradle" Whitman "has offered a powerful original synthesis of motifs which have been elaborated through a period of fifteen hundred years in Western poetry." (28) Yet even if one wants to render Whitman's talking birds as a version of world literary canonicity rather than specifically of the British Romantic ode, it remains to be said that making the figures of odic speech actually speak is a funny thing to do. But of course Michael Warner and John Stuart Mill would both point out that what we have of birdsong in this poem is a printed transcript on paper, and if a transcript could be addressed, it would not be addressed directly to us.

In fact, the direction of address is both the occasion for and the problem of "Out of the Cradle." It is one of the very few poems before the Civil War in which Whitman stages an address on the part of someone or something other than the "I," or that is not directed to a "you." I have already pointed out how attenuated the arrival of the grammatical subject is in the "Pre-Verse." Though the next section of the poem, helpfully dubbed "Reminiscence" in the i860 version, begins by orienting that subject in more familiar narrative territory, the narrative turns out to be itself a story of apostrophic address, cast, as I have suggested, in generic Romantic terms as the overhearing of birdsong. This metanarrative becomes a metametanarrative, or a story not within but about a story, when that birdsong turns out to be an indirect address to the boy who will become the poet Walt Whitman. The would-be poet's identification with the bird's subject position (if birds could have subject positions) as "the solitary singer" has become such a commonplace of later lyric readings of that poet that the poem's rhetorical and structural estrangement of that sort of positive personal identification may be forgotten. (29) So let me sketch another way. It is true that "Out of the Cradle," like "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life" the same year and "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" three years earlier, reflects a perspective on what turned out to be Whitman's still-early career (though these poems tend to figure that career as if it is already over, whereas its end point would not come until thirty years later). The prematurely elegiac pathos of that perspective has something to do with the mixed or nonreception of Whitman's first two editions of Leaves in 1855 and 1856. We might also say that it has something to do with whatever critical relationship or crisis in his own queerness Whitman experienced in the late fifties that led to the Calamus poems of the 1860s (an important companion poem to "Out of the Cradle" in this respect would be the manuscript series only recently reprinted, "Live Oak, with Moss," a series that Whitman describes in one notebook as a sonnet sequence). (30) But the tendency to interpret all of Whitman's textual experiments as expressivizing their relation to the authorial subject may cause us to miss the fact that Leaves of Grass is in all of its versions a text remarkable for its range of genres and hybridizations of genre. Because we have been listening for Whitman's singular poetic voice, we have missed the ways in which, as Jay Grossman puts it, Leaves of Grass "articulates, contravenes, ventriloquizes, disputes, refuses, and relies on a range of printing, phrenological, publishing, poetic, periodical, and political discourses of nineteenth-century Manhattan and the United States." (31)

In "Out of the Cradle," Whitman's parodie framing of the Romantic ode in the translated "voice" of the bird may seem strange enough, but stranger still is the fact that this frame was brought into relief in 1859 by being hybridized with newspaper verse and with what Whitman called "the method of the Italian opera." Both of these other urban mid nineteenth-century generic transatlantic media supposed very different publics than did the Romantic ode, and the difference between the modes of address interarticulated with these publics is one way of thinking about the way in which "Out of the Cradle" thinks about the problem of nineteenth-century American poetry's many different generic forms of address and very locally adjusted reliance on (rather than departure from) transatlantic models.

3. Oh, Whitman!

As a newspaper man long before he was a poet, Whitman knew that different papers supposed different imaginary communities. (32) The Saturday Press was edited by the man who imported Parisian Bohemia to New York, Henry Clapp. Whitman later told Traubel that "You will have to know something about Henry Clapp if you want to know something about me," and while Whitman's late reminiscences to Traubel certainly twisted history, it is true that Clapp's Bohemian circle became Whitman's circle at this time. (33) That circle's performances in the paper as well as on the stage and at Pfaffs (one of the first public sphere beer joints in New York at Bleecker and Broadway), represented a potent mixture of sex, drugs, and if not rock and roll, then some of the performance genres that anticipated rock and roll. We will return to downtown New York opera as one of those performance genres in a moment, but first we should dwell on the perhaps too-obvious fact that Bohemian in spirit and transatlantic as it may have been, the Saturday Press was a newspaper, and it had something of a national circulation. The unpredictable range of its print audience in fact became evident almost immediately after Whitman's poem appeared on the front page on Christmas Eve, 1859, when on December 28th a reviewer in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial responded to the publication of Whitman's poem on that paper's front page, by announcing that "The author of Leaves of Grass has perpetrated another 'poem.'" It is somewhat surprising that given the generally sophisticated Bohemian tone and subject matter of Clapp's paper (promotions for nude performances; anti-marriage tracts), the Cincinnati reviewer could be so surprised at Whitman's breach of decorum, especially in one of the least sexy of Whitman's poems. But as the review goes on it becomes clear that the decorum that Whitman appears to have most appallingly breached was the decorum of print-circulated poetic genres, and especially of their fictions of address. The "poem" in nose-pinching scare quotes devolves into "meaningless twaddle" by the end of the review, and by the time the reviewer gets to his or her assessment of Whitman's "Pre-Verse," the question of genre confusion moves beyond both irony and insult into what was by then a standard charge about Whitman's "wildness. " That charge would seem to have little to do with the talking birds of "A Child's Reminiscence," but as we shall see, Whitman will take up the charge as a misunderstanding of his genres of address rather than as the trace of his bad-boy reputation. After reprinting the entire long passage of the "Pre-Verse," the reviewer concludes:

This is like nothing we ever heard of in literature, unless it be the following lucid and entertaining composition:

"Once there was an old woman went into the garden to get some cabbage to make an apple pie. Just then a great she-bear comes up and pops his head into the shop. 'What, no soap!' So he died, and she married the barber; and there was present at the wedding the Jicaninies and the Picaninies, and the Grand Panjandrum himself, with a little round button at the top; and they all fell to playing the game of catch as catch can, till the gun powder ran out of the heels of their boots." (34)

Compared to Whitman's poem, the reviewer's nonsense fairy-tale could be called "lucid and entertaining" because it makes no sense within the definite boundaries of a genre of nonsense-making. It does what it is generically supposed to do, even if what it is supposed to do makes no sense. The Orientalized racism here is a popular way of indicating that Whitman's poem had blurred the verse genres a reader in the Midwest had come to expect from the urban sophisticates' paper. But could a Romantic ode about a boy listening to birds really be so shocking?

It seems so, since as it turned out, the Cincinnati reviewer's prose was just the beginning of print call-and-response generated by Whitman's poem. The editor of the Saturday Press immediately reprinted the immediate bad review on the first page of the 7 January i860 edition of the paper, burying on the third page an anonymous response to the reprinted response entitled "All About a Mocking-bird," obviously written by Whitman himself (like so many of Whitman's early good reviews):

   What is the reason-why of Walt Whitman's lyric utterances, as soon
   as any of them is heard, rousing up such vehement intellectual
   censures and contumely from some persons, and their equally
   determined bravos from other persons?

The question raised by the bad review that Whitman is really answering here is the question of the genre of his poems: they are, he asserts up front, "lyric utterances." Their "reason-why" is contained in that adjective, which turns out to describe a mode of address quite distinct from the general "Romantic lyric" address understood by Whitman's later critics as cognate with poetry as such. For one thing, these utterances cannot be even Actively overheard without having an unpractically large national print circulation. Whereas the 1855 and 1856 editions of Leaves had very small print ranges, the newspaper publication of his new poem in 1859 announced, according to Whitman, the beginning of a new era of his own generic print circulation:

   Those former issues, published by the author himself in little
   pittance-editions, on trial, have just dropped the book enough to
   ripple the inner first-circles of literary agitation, in immediate
   contact with it. The outer, vast, extending, and
   ever-wider-extending circles, of the general supply, perusal, and
   discussion of such a work, have still to come. The market needs
   to-day to be supplied--the great West especially-with copious
   thousands of copies.35

That dream of popular dissemination would never happen, of course, during Whitman's lifetime, but one of the most curious things about the ways in which Whitman imagines that sort of national print public address actually taking place is that he does so in the context of a specifically organized newspaper-reading public. This is not something one could do as a "solitary singer," as a poet whose address is only accidentally overheard. The reprinting of the bad review goes halfway toward creating that public, which Whitman goes on to figure in the apparently incongruous metaphor of the urban audience for operatic performance--which is to say, of a solitary singer on stage. Whitman advises the reviewer that

   Walt Whitman's method in the construction of his songs is strictly
   the method of the Italian Opera, which, when heard, confounds the
   new person aforesaid, and, as far as he can then see, showing no
   purport for him, nor on the surface, nor any analogy to his
   previous-accustomed tunes, impresses him as if all the sounds of
   earth and hell were tumbled promiscuously together. Whereupon he
   says what he candidly thinks (or supposes he thinks), and is very
   likely a first-rate fellow--with room to grow, in certain

Whitman thus forgives the western bumpkin for not having been present, say, at Maria Alboni's appearances at the Academy of Music at Fourteenth Street and Irving Place (which Whitman reviewed for the paper). Because the rube from Cincinnati didn't travel to New York, in other words, he was in no position to appreciate Whitman's transatlantic genres. But Whitman's real addressees--the audience he is, in Mill's fashion, pretending isn't there--are the readers of the Saturday Press themselves, readers who knew that the paper was the who's-who of a special and enduring form of very local transatlanticism, the New York opera scene. Whitman's later critics have tried to apply these comments literally to the aria-recitative structure of "Out of the Cradle," and within the bird's interpellated song, that application finds some purchase, but in the context of the call-and-response structure of the newspaper's circulation, the point of Whitman's calling his "method" the "method of the Italian Opera" is a way to shift the dynamics of addressivity expected of newspaper verse somewhat improbably toward inside knowledge or the talk of the town on one particular imported genre of vocal performance. In other words, the "voice" Whitman attributes to his lyric utterances is not the yawp of the burly American Rough but the cantibile of the foreign female singer, whose voice can only reach the public as the public of the Saturday Press. If for Mill the analogy of the actor who pretends not to know that the audience is present was one clear analogy for the Romantic poet's performance, for Whitman in the New York years the opera singer's performance was an immediately available analogy for a poet who knew all too well what having an audience present was like. (36) He also knew all too well that there were never two more distant genres than operatic vocal performance in front of a live, definitely located audience and a print-mediated poetic performance beside and behind and to the side of and accidentally ready to hand for a clueless reader in Cincinnati. So why did Whitman conflate these two genres and media with one another?

In his anonymous response to the Cincinnati review in January i860, Whitman asks the same question:

      Then the workmanship, the art-statement and argument of the
   question. Is this man really an artist at all? Or not plainly a
   sort of naked and hairy savage, come among us, with yelps and
   howls, disregarding all our lovely metrical laws? How can it be
   that he offends so many and so much?

      Quite after the same token as the Italian Opera, to most bold
   Americans, and all new persons, even of latent proclivities that
   very way, only accustomed to tunes, piano-noises and the
   performances of the negro-bands--satisfied, (or rather fancying
   that they are satisfied), with each and several thereof, from
   association and habit, until they pass utterly beyond them--

According to Whitman, Whitman offends the ears of American bumpkins as the opera offends those "new persons" not yet initiated into the cosmopolitan scene. What those rubes do appreciate, according to Whitman on Whitman, is "the negro bands," the music familiar to them "from association and habit." Thus Whitman casts the intimate, familiar performances of black folk against the extravaganza of urban foreign imports; the negro bands end up, ironically, on the side of "our lovely metrical laws," since familiar meters (say, trimeters and tetrameters) are cast here as slavish minstrelsy. This is to say that Whitman answers the implicit racism of the charge that his verse soils what the reviewer had earlier referred to as "the spotless white" of the columns of Clapp's paper by invoking the explicit racism of the familiar nineteenth-century opposition between primitivism and civilization. While the opera may be no less generic than those tunes and piano-noises, it appears "savage" to the unsophisticated ear because it is foreign and unfamiliar. By reversing the poles of the civilized and the barbaric--by making negro bands into the model of civilization and the Italian Opera "savage"--Whitman snobbily foregrounds transatlantic genres in the aesthetics of his reception. Like Whitman's long lines, this foreignness could only circulate widely in print, its aesthetic education improbably committed to the page. But I have also been suggesting that the proximity of the unsophisticated response and Whitman's apparently sophisticated answer was no accident; either Clapp reprinted the review at lightning speed, or he and Whitman planted it in the first place.

The multiplying instances of parody, reprinting, and authorial performance and ventriloquism here are the tip of the iceberg; Whitman and Clapp continued to print manufactured numerous bad reviews and parodies for the next nine months, including a poem, "The Fire-Friend: a Nightmare," supposedly found among Poe's papers and never before published. But what do all of these nineteenth-century journalistic shenanigans tell us about the large claims about American Romanticism and the Romantic lyric with which this essay began? That both were always already transatlantic, yes, even when that Romantic lyrical transatlanticism meant downtown appropriation and New York snobbery and racism. But I am also suggesting that we read the microclimate of the production and reception of "Out of the Cradle" as an index of the ways in which Whitman epitomizes American Romanticism as a derivative, generative, deeply mutually creative form of sociality, as an ongoing exchange between poets and readers and editors and printers and parodists and other writers and readers. (37) That exchange was both pre-lyricized and part and parcel of lyricization. What the abstraction of Romanticism and the abstraction of the lyric have in common is that they were made by a transatlantic traffic in genres that has been lost to view. Since these and countless other American instances of generic and personal abstraction have not been considered as relevant to either the definition of Romanticism or the definition of the lyric, the dynamics behind that abstraction (print publics, racism, queer impersonation) have also been lost to view. The iconoclast who supposedly smashed the hierarchy of nineteenth-century verse genres was utterly dependent on those genres for the communal energy of such exchange; at the same time, he and everyone else in the nineteenth century turned those genres to their own purposes. Whitman may have fulfilled Emerson's vision of an original American genius, but he was also a poet who counted on his audience to recognize a derivative discourse and to play along with his fashionably unoriginal uses of it. If we read Whitman as if he were the kind of American Romantic that Bryant and Longfellow and Sigourney and Harper and Horton and Halleck and Oakes Smith and Dunbar were--and this is the way we really should read him--then American Romanticism becomes neither an empty signifier nor a period norm but an ongoing conversation that made Whitman and his poems possible in the first place and that could continue to make new kinds of reading and response possible as well.

In his Theory of the Lyric, Jonathan Culler admits that "to emphasize as I have apostrophic address, which presupposes an animated world that might be asked to act or refrain from acting, is explicitly to link lyric to magic, the enchantment of the world." (38) The alternative to the magical thinking of that sort of lyric reading is not relentless and reductive disenchantment but a historical poetics that acknowledges what Whitman knew: that readers in the nineteenth century didn't need to conjure an imagined community for poetry. They had the real thing. Their printed genres of apostrophic address and response played with fictions of speakers and human and inhuman singers and public and private listeners, but unlike modern lyric readers, those fictions were not all they had; they actually read, wrote for, and responded to one another in the chaotic silence of mass print rather than in the privileged expression of anyone's individual voice. It is certainly true that as Culler writes, "poems have generally circulated in a number of ways, and poets have often hoped to be read by people they do not know, perhaps even after their death, so the charge of ignoring concrete historical modes of circulation is scarcely a potent critique of the concept of lyric as iterable discourse, open to being reperformed in a variety of contexts." (39) I completely agree. As even this brief glimpse at the circulation of one of Whitman's poems demonstrates, what Abrams called "the immense vogue of 'the greater ode' in England" from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century became the more modest vogue of Whitman's riff on the ode in the final year of antebellum New York. The lyricization of the ode happened over great expanses of time and distance, yet also locally, through small instances of reiteration and performance, adjustment and repetition. It happened within the sociality of production, exchange, and response, but also within the gorgeous structure of the poem itself. It happened between people who were making things up together rather than in the imagination of an isolated poet speaking into an imaginary if potentially sublime abyss. In that hand-me-down version of American Romanticism, you probably won't experience the lyrical elation of reading the poet who assumes what you assume, who promises you that if you stop this day and night with him "you shall possess the origin of all poems." (40) Then again, maybe you will.

University of California, Irvine


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Brown, Marshall. Preromanticism. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1991 Cohen, Michael. "The Seasons of American Poetry." Paper presented at the C19 Conference, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, March 2014.

Coviello, Peter. "Intimate Nationality: Anonymity and Attachment in Whitman." American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 73, no. 1 (2001): 85-119.

--. Intimacy in America: Dreams of Affiliation in Antebellum Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

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(1.) Lovejoy, "On the Discrimination of Romanticisms," in Romanticism: Points of View, eds. Robert F. Gleckner and Gerald E. Enscoe (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1970), 66.

(2.) Wellek, "The Concept of Romanticism in Literary History," in Romanticism: Points of View, 182. For a lively discussion of both Lovejoy and Wellek and the problem of Romanticism as definition and as period norm, see Frances Ferguson, "On the Numbers of Romanticisms," ELH $8, no. 2 (Summer 1991): 471-98.

(3.) Nersessian, Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), 21.

(4.) See McGill, Introduction, in The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange, ed. Meredith McGill (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008), 12; Mufti, Forget English: Orientalism and World Literatures (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016); Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997).

(5.) See Lee's "Introduction: A Survey of Survey Courses" in the forum "The End of the End of the Canon?" in Jig: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 4, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 125-30. In the forum itself, see especially the responses by Nan Z. Da and Joseph Dimuro.

(6.) Teaching Transatlanticism: Resources for Teaching Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Print Culture, eds. Hughes and Robbins (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), available online:, accessed 15 October 2015. See especially Meredith McGill, Scott Challener, Isaac Cowell, Bakary Diaby, Lauren Kimball, Michael Monescalchi, and Melissa Parrish, "Genre and Nationality in Nineteenth-Century British and American Poetry."

(7.) McGill, The Traffic in Poems, 2.

(8.) The locus classicus of this Emerson-as-Zeus, American-Poetry-as-Athena style of reading is of course F. O. Matthiesson, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1941), but the prejudice against British and European formal influences in American verse characterized American literary criticism long before Matthiesson. See for example William Peterfield Trent, et al., eds., The Cambridge History of American Literature (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1917); it is here that Bryant is dubbed "the American Wordsworth" (267).

(9.) See Brown, Preromanticism (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1991). The claim about the American popularity of Pope's Essay on Man is Michael Cohen's and is based on the number of American reprint editions he has found at the American Antiquarian Society. See Cohen, "The Seasons of American Poetry," paper presented at the C19 Conference, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, March 2014.

(10.) For an extended discussion of lyricization as idea and as history, see my Dickinson's Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); the entry for "Lyric" in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, eds. Roland Greene and Stephen Cushman, 4th ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012); and the Introduction and headnotes in The Lyric Theory Reader, eds. Virginia Jackson and Yopie Prins (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).

(11.) Culler, Theory of the Lyric (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), 85.

(12.) Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953), 85. In citing the same passage from Abrams, Culler seems to agree that the ode plays a central role in lyricization, since as early as the seventeenth century, "lyric becomes identified with the ode especially and set against epic, didactic, and narrative poetry" (Theory of the Lyric, 73).

(13.) The essay from which Abrams draws in describing the ode's soaring fortunes in English (what I would call the lyricization of the ode) is Norman Maclean's great "From Action to Image: Theories of the Lyric in the Eighteenth Century," in Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modem, ed. R. S. Crane (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952). On "the aesthetics of provinciality," see Rezek, London and the Making of Provincial Literature: Aesthetics and the Transatlantic Book Trade, 1800-1850 (Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 8.

(14.) de Man, "Anthropomorphism and Trope in the Lyric," in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984).

(15.) Jonathan Culler, "Apostrophe," in The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981).

(16.) Johnson, "Anthropomorphism, Animation, Abortion," in A World of Difference (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 185.

(17.) See for example Roy Harvey Pearce, The Continuity of American Poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961).

(18.) Jarrell, "Some Lines from Whitman, Poetry and the Age (New York: Ecco Press, 1953), 117.

(19.) M. M. Bakhtin, Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, trans. Vern W. McGee (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), 69.

(20.) Larson, Whitman's Drama of Consensus (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

(21.) Mill, "Thoughts on Poetry and its Varieties" (1833), in Autobiography and Literary Essays, vol. 1 of The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981), 403.

(22.) Gitelman, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 2. See I5in4, for acknowledgment of our conversation in forming this definition.

(23.) The poem was first published on 24 December 1859 in the New York Saturday Press as "A Child's Reminiscence," and then in the i860 Leaves as "A Word Out of the Sea," which was revised for the 1867 edition, retitled "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" in the 1871, and then revised under that title for the edition of 1881.

(24.) Williams, Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 10. Since as Williams writes, "parody is a mode, not a genre" (12) in her analysis, operatic performance makes genre formation visible. In her book, the operatic performance of parodie genres is Gilbert and Sullivan's, but I am suggesting here that Whitman was an early adapter of the strategy Williams so eloquently traces later in the century.

(25.) I am citing the version of the poem shown here in the Saturday Press. For the versions of the poem in the i860, 1867, 1871 and 1881 versions of the poem, see the excellent Walt Whitman Archive,, accessed 15 October 2015.

(26.) Warner, "Whitman Drunk," in Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 289.

(27.) See Coviello, "Intimate Nationality: Anonymity and Attachment in Whitman" American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 73, no. 1 (March 2001): 85-119. For an extension of this argument and another generically indeterminate version of intimacy in the nineteenth-century American public sphere, see also Coviello, Intimacy in America: Dreams of Affiliation in Antebellum Literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).

(28.) Spitzer, "Explication de Texte Applied to Walt Whitman's Poem 'Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking'" ELH 16, no. 3 (September 1949): 235.

(29.) See Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1986). For an exemplary set of mid century lyric readings of "Out of the Cradle," see The Presence of Walt Whitman: Selected Papers from the English Institute, ed. R. W. W. Lewis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962).

(30.) The sequence was first reprinted in the fourth edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature and is reprinted in The Portable Walt Whitman, ed. Michael Warner (New York and London: Penguin Books, 2004), 204--10. For a description of the history of the sequence and a polemical view of its recent interpreters, see Hershel Parker, "The Real 'Live Oak, with Moss': Straight Talk about Whitman's 'Gay Manifesto,"' Nineteenth-Century Literature 51 (September 1996): 145-60. "Live Oak," written in the same year as "Out of the Cradle," is an important companion piece on the relation between intimacy and genre in Whitman, though an elaboration of that relation exceeds the limits of the present essay.

(31.) Grossman, Reconstituting the American Renaissance: Emerson, Whitman, and the Politics of Representation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 115. Grossman's reading of Whitman is the exception to the rule. The present essay is an attempt to extend Grossman's insights to break "poetic" discourses into their manifold parts.

(32.) For a good account of just what sort of imaginary and everyday community The New-York Saturday Press supposed, see Christine Stansell, "Whitman at Pfaff's: Commercial Culture, Literary Life and New York Bohemia at Mid-Century," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10, no. 3 (Winter 1993): 107-26; and more recently, Amanda Gailey, "Walt Whitman and the King of Bohemia: The Poet in the Saturday Press," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 24, no. 4 (Spring 2008): 143-66. It should also be noted that the Saturday Press was a weekly paper, and so distinguished from the rise of the New York dailies in the antebellum period. For the latter, see especially David Henkin, "Print in Public, Public in Print: The Rise of the Daily Paper," in City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998). For a number of insightful essays on Whitman's involvement with the Saturday Press, see Whitman Among the Bohemians, ed. Joanna Levin and Edward Whitely (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014), especially the essay by Leif Eckstrom, "On Puffing: The Saturday Press and the Circulation of Symbolic Capital."

(33.) Horace Traubel, vol. 5 of With Walt Whitman in Camden (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964).

(34.) The Cincinnati Daily Commercial 28 December 1859: 2. The review is reprinted on The Vault at Pfaffs,, accessed on 15 October 2015. Following my lead, the website now identifies the authors of the anonymous Cincinnati review as "Henry Clapp and Walt Whitman."

(35.) Whitman's dependence on print for the dissemination of his "songs," was an open secret, of course. For the best treatment of its contradictory logic, see Meredith McGill, "Walt Whitman and the Poetics of Reprinting," in Walt Whitman: Where the Future Becomes the Present (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008), 37-58.

(36.) In fact, in Life Illustrated, 10 November 1855, Whitman published a piece on "The Opera" that is, tellingly, much more engaged in a description of the crowd at the Academy than of the opera itself. In that article Whitman addressed his Cincinnati critic over four years before his critic addressed him: "You listen to this music, and the songs, the choruses.... It is novel, of course, being far, very far different from what you were used to--the church choir, or the songs and playing on the piano, or the nigger songs, or any performance of the Ethiopian minstrels...." Reprinted in New York Dissected: A Sheaf of Recently Discovered Newspaper Articles by the Author of Leaves of Grass, ed. Emory Holloway and Ralph Adimari (New York: Rufus Rockwell Wilson, Inc., 1936), 22.

(37.) On the Saturday Press and especially the remediation of the paper and its community through the excellent website (sponsored by Lehigh University and organized by Edward Whiteley) The Vault at Pfaffs, see Meredith McGill, "Remediating Whitman," PMLA 122, no. 5 (October 2007): 1592-96, accessed 15 October 2015.

(38.) Culler, Theory of the Lyric, 351.

(39.) Culler, Theory of the Lyric, 85.

(40.) The phrase from the poem that would become "Song of Myself" may also be found in its 1855 version at, accessed 15 October 2015.
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Author:Jackson, Virginia
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2016
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