Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Hudson River
Author:
Faries, Nathan C.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Despite its modest 315-mile length, the Hudson River is famous for its diverse surrounding landscapes. Slow-moving and salty with Atlantic water, the Hudson flows south through eastern New York from the Adirondack Mountains to New York Bay. Walt Whitman lived within sight of the Hudson for many years, but he made only three notable trips along the river. In 1848 he traveled to and from a short-lived newspaper job in New Orleans via the Hudson River, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi. In 1878, Whitman, just beginning to travel again following his crippling 1873 stroke, visited the cottage of his friend John Burroughs about one hundred miles up the Hudson. He repeated this trip in 1879 and wrote of the area's salubrious influence.

Whitman considered the Hudson among the great American waterways. He mentions it three times in Leaves of Grass: "Song of the Answerer," "By Blue Ontario's Shore," and "Outlines for a Tomb." In these the river is listed alongside the Mississippi, Paumanok Sound, and the alien Thames. Whitman's Hudson prose is more descriptive. Early in the Preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass Whitman calls the river "beautiful masculine Hudson" (Whitman 7). In Specimen Days (1882), he eulogizes the riverside train line, the fishermen's nets, and his favorite Hudson denizen, an eagle riding a storm over the river.

Whitman would also have seen the river as something of an American cultural phenomenon. In his day, a home on the Hudson was a status symbol, and a school of art, one of whose members Whitman publicly lauded, grew out of the river's distinctly American vistas.

Bibliography

Holloway, Emory. Whitman: An Interpretation in Narrative. New York: Knopf, 1926.

Howat, John K. The Hudson River and Its Painters. New York: Viking, 1972.

Whitman, Walt. Complete Poetry and Collected Prose. Ed. Justin Kaplan. New York: Library of America, 1982.


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