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Editor's Note: This essay was submitted in fulfillment of the "open discussion" requirement for week 1 of the edX MOOC Poetry in American: Whitman offered by Harvard University. The following poems were studied:
Whitman’s poems contain seemingly
are intimate acquaintances.Being part
of a crowd results in meaningful chance encounters.Noisy, busy activities create a shared experience.Anonymity creates a sense of solidarity
and fellowship.Whitman’s use
apostrophe allows him to combine these otherwise disparate elements.
of direct address makes the reader, the crowd, and even the entire world part
of Whitman’s conversation. For
example, “To a Stranger” begins by directly addressing a “passing stranger” in
a crowd. Once directly addressed,
the stranger becomes more of an acquaintance, the setting more of a shared
experience. Yet, the stranger is
still a stranger and part of the crowd, representative of all strangers. The same phenomenon occurs when Whitman
directly addresses “crowds of men and women” in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” The crowds are anonymous, yet when
directly addressed in this way become part of a shared experience. A sense of fellowship is created. Section 9 of “Song of the Broad-Axe” opens with bold
apostrophe: “America! I do not vaunt my love for you; I have
what I have.” Here, Whitman addresses
America directly and, in doing so, addresses every American directly. His love is given to America and to
each American at once.