Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Little Sleighers" (1844)
Author:
McGuire, Patrick
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

"The Little Sleighers. A Sketch of a Winter Morning on the Battery" first appeared in Columbian Magazine, September 1844. For publication particulars, see Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

This sketch is ostensibly about that section of Manhattan called the Battery and the bitterly cold wind. But description of these gives way easily to a meditation on the joys of childhood, as manifest in the happy antics of the children on their sleds whom the speaker encounters on a noontime walk through the Battery. Like the bachelor-speaker of "My Boys and Girls," the speaker here knows that the way to keep his heart fresh and outlook young is to mix with those who are "fresh" and "youthful" (255). He comments favorably on the custom of covering the corpses of children with flowers, for flowers, which fade quickly, are fitting emblems of children. Childhood here, as in "My Boys and Girls," calls up other reminders of the sorrows of the world and especially of death. Of these young sleighers, the speaker concludes, "All, all will repose at last" (256).

The speaker undermines the starkness of this vision by accusing himself of having become a "sombre moralist." He calls these dark thoughts his "mottled reveries" and would rather carry home with him the gleeful music of the children's voices (256).

Critical attention to the sketch has been limited to cursory descriptions of the piece.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Callow, Philip. From Noon to Starry Night: A Life of Walt Whitman. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992.

Whitman, Walt. The Early Poems and the Fiction. Ed. Thomas L. Brasher. New York: New York UP, 1963.


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