Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Dartmouth College
Author:
Newstrom, Scott L.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Dartmouth College was founded at Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1769 under a charter issued by George III. Walt Whitman read the poem "As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free" (later retitled "Thou Mother with Thy Equal Brood") for the Dartmouth commencement on Wednesday, 26 June 1872. Whitman found it an honor to be speaking at a college for the first time and wrote the poem for the occasion. But he apparently was unaware that his selection was based on the desire of the students in Dartmouth's United Literary Society to outrage the conservative faculty with a notorious poet. Charles Ransom Miller, in particular, was the student who convinced his classmates to ask Whitman to address their graduating class. Before leaving for New Hampshire, Whitman prepared a number of laudatory press releases (including copies of his poem) for eastern newspapers, but these releases for the most part were ignored. Whitman's commencement recitation lasted twenty-five minutes, and his delivery was ineffective, being both inaudible and monotonous. Nonetheless, in a letter to Peter Doyle remarking on the commencement, Whitman seemed to feel his poem had been received well. Yet perhaps he was aware of his waning poetical powers, for his Preface to the publication of As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free (1872) remarked "it may be that mere habit has got dominion of me, when there is no real need of saying anything further" (Prose Works 2:459).

Bibliography

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

Blodgett, Harold W. "Walt Whitman's Dartmouth Visit." Dartmouth Alumni Magazine 25 (1933): 13–15.

Bond, Fraser F. Mr. Miller of "The Times": The Story of an Editor. New York: Scribner's, 1931.

Perry, Bliss. Walt Whitman: His Life and Work. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. Vol. 2. New York: New York UP, 1961.

____. Prose Works 1892. Ed. Floyd Stovall. 2 vols. New York: New York UP, 1963–1964.


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