THE LIFE AND TIMES OF EMMA GOLDMAN
A Curriculum for Middle and High School Students
Excerpts From Walt Whitman's Poetry
Published in Mother Earth in 1906, 1916, and 1917
[ Questions on Poetry | Art and Literature | Next Section ]
Emma Goldman hoped that her magazine would become a political
and cultural forum. She introduced her readers to writers and
poets whose work expressed the optimism of her belief in social
harmony and individual freedom but did not hesitate to give voice
to the outrage against the injustices around them. Although poetry
is no longer as popular a form of expression, Walt Whitman's poems
have remained an emblem of the American belief in individual freedom
and democracy. By prominently including Whitman's poetry in her
magazine, Goldman hoped to link the American anarchist tradition
with the European anarchist tradition. Later in her life, Goldman
wrote an essay about Whitman himself, and the ways in which his
homosexual identity deepened the meaning of his poetry, and how
negative social attitudes about homosexuality prevented him from
fully expressing himself.
- When I peruse the conquered fame of heroes, and the
- victories of mighty generals, I do not envy the
- Nor the President in his Presidency, nor the rich in his
- great house;
- But when I hear of the brotherhood of lovers, how it was
- with them,
- How through life, through dangers, odium, unchanging,
- long and rong
- Through youth, and through middle and old age, how
- unfaltering, how affectionate and faithful they
- Then I am pensive--I hastily walk away, filled with the
- bitterest envy.
I SIT AND LOOK OUT
- I SIT and look upon all the sorrows of the world, and
- upon all oppression and shame,
- I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men at
- anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds
- I see in low life the mother misused by her children, dying,
- neglected, gaunt, desperate,
- I see the wife misused by her husband, I see the treacherous
- seducer of young women,
- I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love
- attempted to be hid, I see these sights on the earth,
- I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny, I see
- martyrs and prisoners,
- I observe a famine at sea, I obseve the sailors casting
- lots who shall be kill'd to preserve the lives of the
- I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant
- persons upon labourers, the poor, and upon negroes,
- and the like;
- All these--all the meanness and agony without end I
- sitting look out upon,
- See, hear, and am silent.
FROM "LEAVES OF GRASS"
- I DREAM'D in a dream I saw a city invincible to the
- attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth,
- I dreamed that was the new city of Friends,
Nothing was greater there then the quality of robust
- love; it led the rest,
- It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that
- And in all their looks and words.
* * *
- WHAT think you I take my pen in hand to record?
The battle-ship, perfect-modell'd, majestic, that
- I saw pass the offing to-day under full sail?
- The splendours of the past day? or the splendour
- of the night that envelops me?
- Or the vaunted glory and growth of the great city spread
- around me?--no;
- But merley of two simple men I saw to-day on the pier in
- the midst of the crowd, parting the parting
- of dear friends,
- The one to remain hung on the other's neck and passionately
- kiss'd him,
- While the one to depart tightly prest the one to remain in
- his arms.
Questions on the Poems:
- What themes link these three Whitman poems?
- Do you think that Whitman's perspective is
optimistic and/or pessimistic about the world he lived in?
- What kind of history books and newspaper
articles would be written if the authors shared Whitman's perspective
on what is fundamental to life?
General Questions on This Exhibit:
- What kinds of changes do you think must take
place in the world to create Whitman's "new city of Friends"?
Can a poem be part of the process of change?
- How does the power of poetry differ from
prose? Does it seem more accessible or less accessible? Why,
and in what ways?
- What kind of poetry is part of your life?
Can you give an example of a contemporary song or rap that speaks
to people and social issues in a unique way?
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