Whitman: An Interpretation in Narrative
By: Emory Holloway
Alfred A. Knopf, 1926
"The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it."
The above quote seems, to me, to capture the essence of Emory Holloway's Whitman. While Walt Whitman did not write great epic national poems proclaiming his loyalty to the United States, he did live out that loyalty in his daily life and Holloway shows this in example after example from Whitma's life. Whitman was enamored with the idea of the "wilderness," of the movement west into the vast unknown. He opposed the extension of slavery and as the Civil War came upon the nation he wrote his poem, "Beat! Drums! Beat!" to rally the patriotic of the North. When his brother, George, was wounded in battle Whitman made his way south to tend to him. Upon George's recovery Whitman, so moved by the plight of the injured, travelled to Washington, D.C. to make rounds among the wounded in the large number of military hospitals located there. He brought personal items to cheer the soldiers, sat and talked with them, and even took down letters for their families. He committed his life to helping soldiers from both North and South until 1873 when he was permanently disabled by a stroke.
Holloway's book did spend time discussing Whitman's literary work like his most famous, "Leaves of Grass," that endured many revisions over the year. But, what struck me most were the descriptions of Whitman's deep concern for the common man. He spent most of his free time riding up and down the bus lines observing and making friends with those he met along the way.
While Whitman's poetry is often beyond my comprehension, I do appreciate the life of the man. Holloway's writing is in itself poetic and a joy to read.