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The house on Ryerson can show us one more aspect of Whitman and his America, if we take Reynolds as our guide. Whitman was always writing about work and toil, and the lines he wrote, some of them, emit a tasty flavor of the real for the very good reason that he himself was a man of the manual trades and for the equally good reason that Emerson had taught him to look for the old, labor-drenched, Anglo-Saxon words of ordinary life. But mostly the poems of work express a nostalgia.

The factory system was spreading, industrial disciplines were breaking down the old habits of work, and obedience was the new code of behavior—even on Ryerson Street. The relatively uniform style of the old houses up and down the block shows that construction contractors were already making use of factory-made materials.

And in the face of those developments, Whitman looked to the past. He painted an Edenic picture of American workers in an age of artisan independence, when it was perfectly all right to take your hat off to nobody because you were your own employer. There were backward glances in his political thinking, too. He was full of confident prophecies about democratic triumphs in the future and the spread of American ideals around the world. But, especially in the poems from the eighteen-fifties, his heart beat mostly for the era, seventy-five years behind him, of George Washington and the Battle of Brooklyn, where his own great-uncle had fought and died.

And these two remembered and well-loved things—the Revolution and the disappearing world of artisan independence—were fused, in his mind, into a single patriotic theme. The skilled, autonomous worker was his concept of a free, creative person, and the Revolution, as he understood it, was supposed to have taken people like that and made them, for the first time in history, the lords of the earth. Whitman, we may assume, knew the difference between his own ideas and the reality around him.

There were purposes behind that nostalgia. Anything but that! So he did his own warbling, and kept it up until the last moment, and even after. And then, in , when there was no point in going on, with his brother George listed in the press as among the Union wounded at Fredericksburg, it was time for him to leave Brooklyn for the war zones around Washington, and to take up his duties in the military hospitals as a nurse to the wounded and the dying.

What you can see on Ryerson Street and for blocks around is those same ideas about labor and America inscribed in the architecture and the street geography. For here are any number of the old wooden houses from the decades before the Civil War, some of them with the original porches still intact. Ryerson Street was named, I suppose, for the Ryerson family, old Dutch settlers who seem not to have played much of a role in the Revolution. But two blocks west of Ryerson is Washington Avenue.

Two blocks east is Steuben Street. Next comes Emerson Place—and who is to say how that name crawled its way onto the Brooklyn street map? Four more blocks bring us to Franklin Avenue. From there, if you start moving south, into the Bedford-Stuyvesant section, you run into a massed formation of Revolutionary heroes, deployed as street names: De Kalb, Kosciusko, Lafayette nationalism was internationalist on the streets of Brooklyn , Gates, Monroe, Madison, Putnam, Jefferson, Hancock. Still, you would have to be a crabby soul to wander around those sidewalks and see misery and failure and nothing else.

Immigrants from Latin America, the West Indies, West Africa, and from around the world have been drawn into those streets, and some of those people may even have stumbled their way into the satisfactions of democracy. I climbed the red stoop and pressed a buzzer at random. The door opened and two brothers peered out. I introduced myself and told them the exciting antiquarian news that in their own home the greatest of American poets had once lived—more than a century ago.

The brothers eyed me suspiciously. Then one of them—it was a Mr. Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sign in Shop. You have read all of your free articles for this month. Login to read more! Read something that means something.

How to Celebrate Walt Whitman’s Two-Hundredth Birthday

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“I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood.”

Poetry Foundation. Back to Previous. Walt Whitman. Poems by Walt Whitman. America "Are you the new person drawn toward me? Related Content. More About this Poet. Region: U.

Come Up from the Fields Father. Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. For You O Democracy. Gliding O'er All. A Glimpse. I Hear America Singing. I Sing the Body Electric.


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Long, too long America. A Noiseless Patient Spider. O Captain! My Captain! O Life! O Tan-Faced Prairie-Boy. On the Beach at Night. On the Beach at Night Alone. One's-Self I Sing. Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking. Patroling Barnegat. Sometimes with One I Love.

Song of Myself version. Song of Myself : Song of the Open Road. Time to Come. To the States,. When I Heard at the Close of the Day. The World Below the Brine. The Wound-Dresser. Show More. Anti-Love Poems. For breakups, heartache, and unrequited love. Read More. Poems of Protest, Resistance, and Empowerment. Why poetry is necessary and sought after during crises. Poems of Anxiety and Uncertainty. Confronting and coping with unchartered terrains through poetry. Poems to integrate into your English Language Arts classroom. Queer Love Poems.

LGBTQ love poetry by and for gay men, lesbians, and the queer community. Poems About Fathers. Whether it's Fathers Day or any time of year, here are poems about all types of dads. A fistful of poems about fatherhood by classic and contemporary poets. Spring Poems. Classic and contemporary poems to celebrate the advent of spring. Poems of Hope and Resilience. The words of others can help to lift us up.

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Don Whitman's Masterpiece by Norman Crane

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