Commentary

Contemporary Reviews

About this Item

Title: [Review of November Boughs]

Creator: unknown [unsigned in original]

Date: December 9, 1888

Publication information: The New-York Daily Tribune 9 December 1888: 14.

Source: The original electronic text for this file was prepared for Walt Whitman, The Contemporary Reviews, ed. Kenneth M. Price (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), and the transcription was completed by consulting a representation of the original (e.g., photocopy, microfilm copy). Following publication of that volume, Price received an updated transcription file from Cambridge University Press, and the Whitman Archive has used the final file from the publisher as the basis for the electronic text presented here.

Whitman Archive ID: anc.00179

Contributors to digital file: Natalie O'Neal, Elizabeth Lorang, and Vanessa Steinroetter


November Boughs By Walt Whitman. 8vo. pp. 140. Philadelphia: David McKay.

It seems probable that this volume will be the last published by Walt Whitman, and it is a gathering together of many fragments, mostly in prose. The verse consists of the short pieces under the head "Sands at Seventy," a little collection which fairly exhibits the poet's strength and weakness, and in proportions indicating the maintenance by him of a curious stability of quality. In the prose part of November Boughs, the opening paper entitled "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads" will be to many readers the most interesting, for the reason that it is a restatement of the considerations which, in his eyes, justify the peculiarities of this form and method. Here, too, is to be noted evidence of an unchanging point of view which in Whitman's case is more than the effect of advancing age - though that, too, is partly accountable for it. The poet himself ingenuously supposes that his departure from accepted methods and his effort to resurrect our archaic form of expression, together with his insistence upon a realism which is so exaggerated as to be unnatural, arise wholly from a radical spirit of reform. In this he has always been to a great extent mistaken, for his peculiarities are at bottom much more the results of a certain narrowness and want of both sympathy and elasticity than of originality and the zeitgeist.

The very fact that his strongest poems are those in which he displays his eccentric method least should have bred mistrust in him of the soundness of his theories. The fact that, while believing himself the poet of the people, he has never been accepted by the people as their poet, should have led him to question the infallibility of his inspiration, and above all have forced him to ask himself whether, after all, he saw the democratic movement of his time as it really was. But it is clearly enough shown in this, his last volume, that Walt Whitman's fundamental misapprehensions are ineradicable, and no stronger proof of this could be adduced than his declaration of belief that the future progress of the United States is to be largely spiritual, and the parallel implication that his poetry represents a step in this direction. Age, indeed, has sobered him considerably, and in his last poems we miss the defiant tone with which he was wont to reinforce his assaults upon all the conventionalities. There is, too, less crudeness and more melody in his verse, and less, be it said also, of that impetuous panoramic tendency which formerly converted some of his most ambitious pieces into the semblance of fantastic catalogues. His prose style is marked by some, but not all, of the defects which mar his poems, but it is generally clear enough in meaning, and at times vigorous, if never graceful.


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