Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"You Lingering Sparse Leaves of Me" (1887)
Author:
Baldwin, David B.
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 Lippincott's Magazine (November 1887), this effective six-line lyric is enriched when linked to its companion five-line piece, "Not Meagre, Latent Boughs Alone," published at the same time in the same place. Both are found in the "Sands at Seventy" annex to Leaves of Grass, with "You Lingering" placed first. Both depend on the figure of a tree that Whitman equates with himself, its leaves or fruit clearly corresponding to his own late poetry.

"You Lingering" describes the stark condition of fall and winter, "Not Meagre" of spring and summer. The first, picturing his leaves as "sparse" and "lingering," adds further negative modifiers: "tokens diminute and lorn," "pallid banner-staves," and "pennants valueless . . . overstay'd of time." The second lyric looks to a warmer season when, as with his poems, "verdant leaves," "nourishing fruit," and finally "love and faith" will bloom.

Because he directly addresses the leaves in "You Lingering," using "you" five times in only six lines, there is assurance that he feels great closeness to these leaves, these poems. In the penultimate line, he defends them strongly: "Yet my soul-dearest leaves confirming all the rest." In the final line, he strengthens them still further: "The faithfulest—hardiest—last." "Last" appears to be a pun, intentional or not, yielding an appropriate double meaning.

This poem and its companion show how much Whitman learned to say in small compass without compromising his style.

Bibliography

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


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