Selected Criticism

"Broadway" (1888)
Harris, Maverick Marvin
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

This rather short poem by Whitman first appeared in the 10 April 1888 issue of the New York Herald and ended up in the "Sands at Seventy" cluster in the final (1891–1892) edition of Leaves of Grass. Since Whitman died shortly thereafter (26 March 1892), it has remained unaltered. The original manuscript is in the Clifton Waller Barrett Collection at the University of Virginia.

Given Whitman's love for New York City, a poem celebrating its grandeur is not surprising. As a young man he loved to stroll down Broadway in his frock coat with a boutonniere in the lapel, reveling in the sights, sounds, and smells of the famous street. Sometimes he rode on top of an omnibus all day long, seated by the driver; often he "took refuge" at Pfaff's, a famous Swiss restaurant that was a favorite haunt of New York's literary Bohemia.

By using emotional bursts instead of complete sentences, Whitman expresses in the poem's eleven lines the excitement of the street that unceasingly teems with "hurrying human tides" and "endless sliding, mincing, shuffling feet!" People of all types and with various intents scurry about: the passionate, gamblers, lovers true or false, evil people, blissful people, sad people. The street is the portal and arena for long lines, rich windows, huge hotels, wide sidewalks, and wondrous tales, if flagstones could but talk.

Though small itself, this poem shows Whitman's appreciation for the variety of American life, with its "vast, unspeakable show and lesson."


Asselineau, Roger. The Evolution of Walt Whitman: The Creation of a Personality. Trans. Richard P. Adams and Roger Asselineau. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1960.


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