Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"As I Sit Writing Here" (1888)
Author:
Kalnin, Martha A.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

"As I Sit Writing Here" first appeared in the New York Herald, 14 May 1888. Later that year, Whitman collected "Writing" into November Boughs under the section "Sands at Seventy." Also later that year, "Sands at Seventy" was reprinted as an annex to Leaves of Grass in Complete Poems and Prose.

Whitman's attempt to record universal experiences and his self-proclaimed role as poet of body and soul force him to write even about the unpleasantness of aging. In "Writing" Whitman voices his concerns that advancing age is filtering into his poetry, making him a weaker poet. His body becomes a metaphor for poetic activity: both succumb to the burdens of age. Instead of a free flow of ideas expressed through a natural process, Whitman's poetry is stopped up—constipated. Time has made him "dull" and "querulous." "Lethargy" slows his writing so that he produces shorter poems. "Whimpering ennui" causes him to question his ability to write. By acknowledging his advanced age in his writing, however, Whitman attempts to put himself in control of his querulousness. He hopes that by his forcing the reader to participate in his aches and "glooms," the reader will experience aging with him and thus overlook the weaknesses seeping into his poetry.

Bibliography

Fillard, Claudette. "Le Vannier de Camden: Vieillesse, Poésie, et les Annexes de Leaves of Grass." Études Anglaises 45 (1992): 311–323.

Stauffer, Donald Barlow. "Walt Whitman and Old Age." Walt Whitman Review 24 (1978): 142–148.

Thomas, M. Wynn. "A Study of Whitman's Late Poetry." Walt Whitman Review 27 (1981): 3–14.

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


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