Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"After the Supper and Talk" (1887)
Author:
Baldwin, David B.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Print Source: J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

This poem was first published in Lippincott's Magazine, November 1887, and included as the last poem in the First Annex, "Sands at Seventy," 1891–1892 edition. Its earlier title, "So Loth to Depart," was more appropriate, if less euphonious.

In a dozen lines, this lyric describes the pain of a final parting from friends. The first lines suggest little more than a warm departure after a pleasant dinner, but lines 4–6, in parentheses, widen the implications. The leave-taker, never identified, is going on a journey, never to return, and will be present "[n]o more for communion of sorrow and joy." While he is leaving his friends, the darkness deepens and the figure of the departing one grows dimmer. Since Whitman regularly used the journey motif symbolically, the journey may be journey into death. It may also be associated with Whitman himself, for he often addressed the themes of death and dying in poems written during his final years.

The structure of "After the Supper and Talk" is periodic, a favorite rhetorical device of the poet. Since the poem's strength derives from the reluctance of the departing one to leave his friends, a common human experience, the holding off of the main clause till the end is especially effective. The final line, "Garrulous to the very last," may best be read as abruptly shifting the mood from the somber and melancholy to the playful and teasing. The fact that Whitman knew himself to be loquacious increases the likelihood of his being the central figure. The hesitant, interrupting rhythm well suits the circumstance of the reluctant farewell.

"After the Supper and Talk" can be compared to two other farewell poems, "Good-Bye my Fancy!," the last poem in the Second Annex to the 1891–1892 edition of Leaves of Grass, and the longer and more personal "So Long!," which Whitman used as the closing poem of Leaves from the 1860 edition on.

Bibliography

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader's Edition. Ed. Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley. New York: New York UP, 1965.


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