Sunday, June 24, 2012

1859 and the Lonely Mockingbird


1856-60 Blogging, Part 5 of 5
"Death, death, death, death, death."

Engraving of Walt Whitman from the
first edition (1855) of Leaves of Grass.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
In these long breaks between the signature 21 Essays series, I’m experimenting with a new feature focused on possibilities for future series.  I’ll spin the roulette wheel to pick a year (or set of years) and then brainstorm on some potential essay topics.  This time the wheel spins, gradually slows, then clicks to a stop, pointing at:  1856-1860. 

So here’s my fifth and final series possibility, this one from 1859 again (that’s four out of five from 1859, but that’s okay…):  21 essays on the poem “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” by Walt Whitman.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) published the first edition of his major poetry collection Leaves of Grass in 1855, with a second edition issued in 1856 and a third in 1860.  With each edition, Leaves of Grass grew larger.  The 1860 edition was the first to include “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” where it was initially known as “A Word Out of the Sea.”  Whitman had written the poem in 1859 and first published it in the Saturday Press under the title “A Child’s Reminiscence.”

“Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” IS a child’s reminiscence, entirely built upon Whitman’s boyhood memory of two mockingbirds that he observed one summer nesting on a Long Island beach.  One of the birds does not return, leaving the other to express his loss in song.  The Indian word “Paumanok” is Whitman’s term for Long Island. The “cradle” that endlessly rock is the ocean.  The word out of the sea is “death.”

Creeping thence steadily up to my ears and laving me softly all over,
Death, death, death, death, death.

I grew up on Long Island.  Much has changed, but not the ocean.  It’s still a cradle endlessly rocking.  And death is still an inescapable part of our world.

The aria sinking,
All else continuing, the stars shining,
The winds blowing, the notes of the bird continuously echoing,
On the sands of Paumanok’s shore gray and rustling…

This is the last of my official 1856-60 ideas (with no promises that I’ll necessarily be getting to any of them…).

Next year up on the random year(s) generator:  2006.  (Coming soon…)

© 2012 Lee Price

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