Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Long, Too Long America" (1865)
Author:
King, Jerry F.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Walt Whitman wrote this five-line poem for the first publication of Drum-Taps (1865). When Whitman arranged the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass, he placed "Long, Too Long America" at the exact center of the "Drum-Taps" section, preceded by twenty-three Civil War poems and followed by twenty-three others.

"Long, Too Long" merges the militant themes of the early Civil War poems with the peace and reconciliation themes of later ones. Whitman continues to accept the need to pursue the war, despite the horrors he has seen in his hospital experiences, but he hopes the land can "learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not," and now "show to the world what your children en-masse really are."

"Long, Too Long America" deals less than some of Whitman's Civil War poems with personal losses and tragedies. It deals more directly with Whitman's prewar visions of America, as candidly stated in the otherwise enigmatic last line, and he dares to hope that this land can emerge stronger than before the War; this is because up until then America had "learned from joys and prosperity only."

Whitman made only one change in this poem after its first publication. That was in 1881, to change the title and the first line so that they name "America"; originally these references had been to "O Land."

During the 1960s this poem gained popularity and was read or recited at many anti-Vietnam war meetings.

Bibliography

Coyle, William, ed. The Poet and the President: Whitman's Lincoln Poems. New York: Odyssey, 1962.

Hindus, Milton, ed. "Leaves of Grass" One Hundred Years After. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford UP, 1955.

Miller, James E., Jr. A Critical Guide to "Leaves of Grass." Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1957.

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


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