Selected Criticism

"Orange Buds by Mail from Florida" (1888)
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 the New York Herald on 19 March 1888, and later placed in "Sands at Seventy," this seven-line lyric echoes the staunch patriotism found in many of Whitman's other poems: that is, the Old World may be fine but the New gives promise of something finer. It also illustrates his penchant for turning the slightest incident into verse.

Whitman contrasts Voltaire's bragging about the heights of French civilization—shown by its grand opera and by a French warship (Whitman quotes Voltaire's view before his poem)—with his own delight in receiving an orange plant from Florida. America's greatness, "[p]roof of the present time," is shown to him by the nation's ability to ship the plant a great distance by mail, intact. The buds sprouting three days earlier unfold "their sweetness" into his room. As an old man cooped up and paralytic in his Camden, New Jersey, home, Whitman's isolation and winter loneliness play a part in understanding his joy in receiving this gift.

The lyric itself may seem somewhat forced because the occasion appears trivial when put beside Voltaire's brag. Also, the periodic device he uses, saving the phrase "bunch of orange buds" till the final line, appears anticlimactic. Whitman may have been aware of the danger of this ending being thought absurd, but he would not have minded. Without being jingoistic, he was always secure in his preference for America.


Thomas, M. Wynn. "A Study of Whitman's Late Poetry." Walt Whitman Review 27 (1981): 3–14.

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


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