Home » Walt Whitman

Category Archives: Walt Whitman


JEAN SHEPHERD Rot Gut & (140c) ARTSY Brief Encounter–Walt Whitman in Parts

The Eagle is a one-story store that has been totally cleared out, and running from front to back, right down the middle of it, is a plank bar made out of wooden planks laid on sawhorses and hammered down.  Down at the far end there is a big Coke cooler filled with ice and about eighteen-thousand bottles of beer all sticking out.  And next to it is another great big Coke cooler all filled with ice and it’s got bottles of whisky.  Just bottles of whisky with no labels on them.  Right next to that is a table that, as they know that the current shift is making a change, they have loaded with about fourteen-thousand shot glasses filled with giant, triple shots of this nameless poison.  All lined up like at a party.

The bartenders, named Steve and Bollock, are down there with these glasses, and as each guy comes in and hollers, “Gimme two,” boom—one of the bartenders pushes two out and the guy slaps a buck down.  You get two of these monsters for a buck.  If you want to throw in another fifteen cents, you get a beer to chase them with—“Gimme two wit a chaser.”

A guy grabs a glass of this stuff—“Gluuuup, ahhhhh!”  He grabs the next one, “Gluuuup, ahhhhh!”  And then he takes the bottle of beer and goes glug glug, glug, glug, glug.  Holy smokes!  He is now unwinding.  “Gluuuup, ahhhhh!”   They start yelling and hollering and without even thinking twice, they slap the next buck down and they get two more of these babies!  They are beginning to unwind.

Well, here I am with this guy from the bull gang and he says, “Come on, kid, I’m buying.”  Boom, down goes his buck and the next thing I know I have a glass about the size of my Little Orphan Annie shake-up mug.  This glass is steaming, there’s a little snake crawling around in it, I can see little claws sticking out over the edge, once in a while something with a forked tongue sticks its head out and goes whooooo!

Alex, the guy I’m with says, “Come on, kid, drink up.  Let’s get goin’ here!”  He takes his and goes, “Gluuuup, ahhhhh! Ohhh!  Ahahaha!  Gimme another one, come on.  Let’s go!”




Walt Whitman

“I celebrate myself, and what I assume you shall assume,”

Among the books I have by and about Whitman  is a two-volume set of his “complete” prose and poems published around 1900 by the last publisher during his lifetime, David McKay. The poetry volume includes a several-page facsimile of Whitman’s hand-written “autobiography” folded and bound in the front pages. The first section:

•    •    

Discarded Tissue Paper and Broken Glass

The American Museum of Natural History, where I worked for 34 years, has special connections to naturalist John Burroughs. So the Museum has a small permanent exhibit about Burroughs, who was not only a good friend of Whitman’s, but had written a book, Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person. (It’s said that, as a promotion piece, Whitman himself had mostly written the book himself.)

Later Version of the Museum Exhibit.

The earlier exhibit included a signed photo of Whitman, and a signed and inscribed-to-Burroughs copy of Leaves of Grass, one with a leather cover that folded over to protect the book from damage, presumably while traveling.

The Museum Exhibit Manager had the job of redesigning the exhibit, and I saw the inscribed copy of Leaves of Grass he had lying on a work table. I’d looked at it many times when passing the old exhibit. When I told him that I was a special Whitman admirer, he gave me the book to borrow over the weekend. (It occurred to neither of us then, that this was not a proper thing to do.) Glorying in my luck, I kept the book that Saturday and Sunday and returned it to him on Monday.

I saw an exhibit preparator working on the book for installation. Between the inscribed title page on the right and a photo of Whitman on the left, bound into the book was a thin tissue paper used to protect the photo and title page from marring each other. The preparator, wanting both pages to be seen well in the exhibit, rolled up the tissue. I stepped away for a bit and when I returned, because he hadn’t found a way to hold the rolled tissue in place, the preparator had cut it out of the book and tossed it away! He had just destroyed the purity and integrity of the otherwise complete publication! But there was no remedy.

The exhibit manager installed into the new exhibit the signed book, the signed photo, and the other materials. Months later,we were told that the exhibit glass had been broken the night before and the inscribed Leaves of Grass stolen. No one realized that the signed Whitman photo was also gone, so I, Whitman enthusiast, informed the Museum authorities of this. Only those items–the two Whitman ones–were missing. I haven’t heard anything about the photo or the book ever being recovered.

Leaves of Grass in a Folded Leather Cover.

(Copied From the Internet, Not the Museum’s Stolen Copy.)

Very likely, the thief sold the literary treasure for filthy lucre. Somewhere a Whitman enthusiast has in hand the signed photo and the special leather-protected and enfolded edition signed and inscribed to Burroughs. I envy whoever has the book now, this collector who must be daily enthralled by this Walt Whitman treasure I know I never could have had except for those two unique weekend days. I also mourn that visitors can no longer see a Whitman connection to the Museum that will be missing for years or even generations. Neither I nor other Museum visitors can gaze at that very special copy of Leaves of Grass I once held in my hands–feeling the heft of it and feeling its life.

“If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.”



JEAN SHEPHERD Rot Gut & (140b) ARTSY Brief Encounter–Walt Whitman in Parts

The guys are yelling, “Hey Stasha, stick your head out the window.  Maybe it’ll blow the stink off ya!”  That’s typical steel mill humor.  That is not in bad taste, that is the way life is being lived now, at this instant.  In fact, in about forty-five minutes the swing shift will be coming off duty in the forty-inch soaking pits out in Inland Steel.  Right now they’re knocking down the salt tablets and they’re looking at the clock and they’re thinking about the gin joint they’re about to cram into.  Somebody up front yells, “Hey, Stacha, ya goin’ to The Eagle?”  You hear Stasha holler, “The Eagle?  Ya wanna go to The Eagle again?”  “Yeah, The Eagle.”  “Okay.”

The Eagle?  I’m sitting there on my first day with the bull gang.  The Eagle?  What is the Eagle?  I want to be so much a part of this crowd.  Boy, I want to be part of it.  Because they all knew each other, they’d been working together for years, the whole gang, and here I was.  We are at the clock house.  There’s even a kind of pecking order in who gets the cards first.  Big, tough guys are right in the front and all the little guys trail off behind.  Doing doing doing doing doing punching the card.  Doing doing doing doing doing.

I noticed that as each guy would get to the clock, he’d ring the card and boom!—he’d shoot out like a rocket.  I figured they were all going out to catch the bus.  The guy behind me said, “Come on, kid, let’s go!  We’re going to The Eagle!”  I hit the bell and boom!—we go shooting out of the door, all of us, like out of a gun and right across this rotten, crummy, steel mill road, crisscrossed overhead by eighteen million high-tension wires, telephone wires and streetcar wires, and lit by the flickering smoke and steam and bright flame of the blast furnace and the open hearth.

Right directly across this street is a store.  And it has on the front of it, painted in gold, a half-baked-looking eagle.  This eagle has one wing that looked like a pigeon wing and another wing that looks like a robin wing, and a big beak that looks like it belongs on a vulture.  Underneath its two claws are hanging out and one claw’s got ahold of an American flag in red, white, and blue calcimine, and the other claw’s got ahold of a flag that says “C10 Steel Workers Union Local 1010.”  The Eagle.

Boom!  They run like mad right across the street and cars are screeching to a halt.  Boom!  Into The Eagle.

More Rot Gut to Come!



Walt Whitman

A child said, what is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;

How could I answer the child?….I do not know what it is any more than he.


Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos,

Disorderly fleshy and sensual….eating drinking and breeding,

No sentimentalist….no stander above men and women or apart from them….no

more modest than immodest.

Unscrew the locks from the doors!

Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!


I too am not a bit tamed….I too am untranslatable,

I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.


The last scud of day holds back for me,

It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadowed wilds,

It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.


I depart as air….I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,

I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags.


I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.


You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,

And filter and fibre your blood.


Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,

Missing me one place search another,

I stop some where waiting for you.


Whitman, a great self-promoter, sent a copy of the first edition of Leaves of Grass to Ralph Waldo Emerson, then the most highly regarded literary man in the country. Emerson had written “The Poet,” an essay published 1844, about 11 years before Whitman’s response in Leaves of Grass.  It describes his hopes for an American poet to come with the power and art to express the United States. In it Emerson wrote: “Doubt not, O poet, but persist. Say, `It is in me, and shall out.’ Stand there, baulked and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted, stand and strive, until, at last, rage draw out of thee that _dream_-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a power transcending all limit and privacy,…” Emerson responded to Whitman’s gift of Leaves of Grass–click on the image to read the entire text of this, the most significant American literary letter ever written:

The varied editions of Leaves of Grass published in Whitman’s lifetime consisted of his many additions and editing of nearly every poem he’d written–thus, Leaves of Grass became many times larger than that first edition. I found that the New York Public Library had a unique copy of the 1860-1861 edition, with Whitman’s original, written-in changes and pasted-in notes. The Library had published an analysis and a facsimile which included pasted-in paper as per Whitman’s original—naturally I had to have the two-volume boxed set.

An Opening Spread of My Facsimile from the So-called

“Blue Book” Unique Copy of Leaves of Grass.

I visited Whitman’s final home, a house in Camden, NJ, bought for him by admirers. From there I drove to the cemetery containing Whitman’s gravesite, where he and his family are interred in a mausoleum he designed. In the dirt in front of it, as tribute, I buried a Lincoln penny (in remembrance of Whitman’s elegy to Lincoln).

Whitman House on Mickle Street, Camden.

Whitman Mausoleum

End Part 2 of 3


JEAN SHEPHERD Rot Gut & (140a) ARTSY Brief Encounter–Walt Whitman in Parts

You’re sweating—oh boy, you’re sweating.  You smell to high heaven after eight hours a day in the soaking pits.  But nobody wants to take the time out even to take a shower.  You want to catch the first bus to get out of this Hell hole.  All you do is wipe your face off.  You wipe your hands off, you put your shirt on, you put on your chinos, you put on your tennis shoes, and you run out like mad and stand and wait for the bus to take you out to the clock house and the gate.

We’re all standing.  The bull gang.  About sixty-five in the bull gang, a whole crowd of us.  Mexicans, there were Peruvians, there were Polish and there were Slovacs and there was me, there were Swedes and there were Italians and there were Germans.  There were all kinds of guys.  All waiting.  The bull gang.  We work on tonnage so the more we work, the more that the forty inch mill turns out in a day and the more we earn.  We have really turned it out this day.  Se we’re all standing there like the Chicago Bears football team after mopping up the floor with the Giants!  Guys were chewing their tobacco—ptooie!  Pt, pt.  And you hear about forty-five languages.

Finally the bus comes and away we go.  We’re all sitting in that big, long bus taking us to the clock house.  We go for a mile.  A couple of guys have salami sandwiches left and they’re eating them.  You could smell the sweat of honest labor.  Boy, does it stink.



Walt Whitman

The so-called “Christ Portrait” of 1855,

the Year Before First Publication of Leaves Grass.

Whitman is best known for the early poem, “Song of Myself,” and his profound elegy upon the death of Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.” (His “Captain, My Captain,” which we memorized in grammar school, is well-known and it is a travesty, which Whitman undoubtedly, shamefacedly wrote as a popular ditty.)

I’ve been an enthusiast of Walt Whitman since I first seriously encountered his poetry, probably in the 1960s. In 1969 I drove the short distance to his birthplace, now a museum, just south of Huntington, Long Island, NY, to participate in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Birthplace in Short Hills, NY, with Lilacs

I soon encountered that his self-proclaimed description of “the good, gray poet,” was a way for him to achieve a prestigious image that probably was meant to overcome the prejudice against his sexually explicit expressions, and the evident homoerotic, small group of his poems. Many of the poems for which he is most justly acclaimed were written, not when he was good and gray, but when he was a vigorous 36 years old, and had presented himself in the front of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, not as the typical, formally attired, prim poet, but as the new man of vigor, with casual stance and hard-working-man’s attire.

Based on a Photo, the Frontispiece of the 1855 Edition.

I have consistently been confronted with the “good gray” image of Whitman, used on the cover of the Walt Whitman Review, a university’s scholarly quarterly that I subscribed to for years. For my own pleasure I redesigned that cover showing the young Whitman in prominence and sent two variations to the editor with a polite letter elucidating my point of view. I received no response.

My Cover Design Incorporating the Lettering Style

Whitman Designed for his First Edition.

Cover of First Edition, a Large-format, Slim Volume, 1855.

Whitman Designed and also Typeset Some of the Pages.

The first edition of 1855 is a wonder to see and feel, as flat-out elegant as anything I’ve ever seen, raw and strong and free and powerful as anything I’ve ever read. It begins with Whitman’s own, long, 15-page introduction, that includes, “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.” and ends with:

“The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him

as affectionately as he has absorbed it.”

The book includes such matters as the first poem beginning below (eventually titled “Song of Myself”) and, with just my excerpts here, ends with “I stop some where waiting for you.” (Whitman does not name himself on the title page as the book’s author, but proclaims himself in the poem’s line: “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos,”) —



And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.


I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease….observing a spear of summer grass.


Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun….there are millions of suns left,

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand….nor look through the eyes of the dead….

nor feed on the spectres in books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,

You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

Urge and urge and urge,

Always the procreant urge of the world.


Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,

Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,

Looks down, is erect, bends an arm on an impalpable, certain rest,

Looks with its sidecurved head curious what will come next,

Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it.

End part 1 of 3



Another of Shepherd’s drawings shows a restaurant façade, with a window through which we see a self-contained composition of flower vase on a table and a waiter’s hand delivering a drink, showing a personal interaction going on just out of our view. At the corner of the building over the front door, is the establishment’s name, reminding the viewer of Shepherd’s improvised radio work:  “Hutton’s AD LIB.”

Here in a drawing we see one of the few instances

of a personal connection to Shepherd’s life.

shepherds AD LIB

Hutton’s Ad Lib.

I did some research and determined that it was probably

located in New York, about Lex. Ave. and 47th St.

[Collection E. Bergmann]

The drawings by Shepherd so far seen in public have precise and objectively observed details—a strict depiction of what he saw—which is to say, an observation, but seemingly without an intellectual viewpoint and without feeling.  Apparently done with no preliminary pencil lines (Unless he subsequently erased them?), in a straightforward, simple style, only a couple are what one might describe as “sketchy,” but that occasional sketchiness tells us nothing new either.  On the other hand, his spoken and written words, based on the same acute ability for fine-tuned observation, produced humorous forays into humankind’s foibles.  None of the ink drawings I’ve seen seem to have any of the sense of humor or warmth (except for the Ad Lib one) for which his words are considered an equal to those other Midwesterners, Mark Twain and James Thurber.  With pen and ink in hand he saw clearly and depicted accurately, but I see no attempt to incorporate commentary except in the window scene in Hutton’s Ad Lib.



artsyfratsy 10010


Saturday mornings are a glorious time at our house, full of wild anticipation. The daily Times arrives on the lawn, encapsulated in its blue, plastic, Times bag including some sections of tomorrow’s Sunday Times. I don’t believe that any other newspaper in the world is so likely to contain such possible subject matter that thrills me so! The Wall Street Journal might approach my high standards. Tabloids are below contempt—even if they do mention some worthwhile artsy subject that entrances me, I know, from long-past experience, that the quality and thoroughness of their coverage will be vastly inadequate.

The Saturday, April 30, 2016 delivery contained major, illustrated articles, on not one, but three of my favorite creators. Kahn, Sunday Art Section; Bosch, Sunday Travel Section; Whitman, Saturday Main Section, page 1. (Understand that I have significant books and stashes of clippings and personal memory-holdings on each of these masters.)


After Frank Lloyd Wright, my favorite architect is Lois Kahn (1901-1974). His buildings exude a richness of materials and a warm and life-affirming feeling for light as a substance nearly on a par with material. It’s glorious to see and be within a building by Kahn. I’ve visited the one shown. Here’s The Times opening page on Kahn:

NYT Kahn l0002


One of my favorites, Bosh’s work is bizarre, it is quirky, it thrills me—especially his “Garden of Earthly Delights.” I’ve been in its presence several times. Here’s The Times opening page on Bosch:

Bosch Garden travel 4.30.16


My favorite poet is Whitman. Some of his words and lines and poems, such as “Song of Myself,” grab me as do few other creative works. Here’s The Times continued page on Whitman that began on the main section’s front page:

W.W food tips0002

I must criticize The Times for its faulty choice of that photo of the poet—but Whitman himself bears much blame, as he promoted himself as the “Good, Gray, Poet.” Thus, he’s usually thought of and depicted as a really old guy with a long white beard. When he wrote and published the first edition of his Leaves of Grass in 1855, photos show him as a vigorous young man (about age 36). Even the Matthew Brady portraits of him taken several years after he wrote this “health” article in 1858, show him to have been much younger and more vigorous than The Times image—shame! They probably grabbed both of their printed images from the originator of the story, without the grabber thinking more knowingly. But even The Times isn’t (always) perfect.

W.W civilwar Brady

Whitman by Brady

during the Civil War (1861-1865)