Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"To the Garden the World" (1860)
Author:
Schwiebert, John E.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

First published in Leaves (1860) as number 1 in "Enfans d'Adam," this poem was retitled "To the Garden the World" in the 1867 edition of Leaves and placed as the lead poem in the "Children of Adam" cluster, where it remained through subsequent editions. Whitman heralds the "Adam" cluster (1860) as "A string of Poems . . . embodying the amative love of woman" and treating Adam "as a central figure and type" of the new man (Notebooks 1:412–413).

With annunciatory confidence, "To the Garden" validates the religious sacredness of the natural and sensual world. Juxtaposing "the garden" (with its religious-mythic associations) and "the world" (conventionally viewed as the antithesis of Edenic joy), the opening line posits a new holy garden that is the physical/sensual/sexual world itself. The poem suggests a sense, simultaneously, of cyclical and linear time: the new Adam is resurrected out of the "revolving cycles" of the past; yet he also advances into an altogether new age of human history that honors material things (the body, the senses, sex) that were formerly disparaged.

"To the Garden" evokes, explicitly and implicitly, many of the "Adam" cluster's inspiriting themes and preoccupations: sex, the physical urge toward re-creation and regeneration (both sexual and spiritual), unashamed celebration of the self and identity, and a subversive attitude toward traditional and conventionally repressive notions about both the human body and the world's body.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Legend. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1961.

Aspiz, Harold. Walt Whitman and the Body Beautiful. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1980.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. Walt Whitman's Poetry of the Body: Sexuality, Politics, and the Text. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1989.

Schwiebert, John E. The Frailest Leaves: Whitman's Poetic Technique and Style in the Short Poem. New York: Lang, 1992.

Whitman, Walt. Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts. Ed. Edward F. Grier. 6 vols. New York: New York UP, 1984.


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