Savitri Complementary Reading Group [8/28] - Walt Whitman and « Leaves of Grass »

Date/Time: 28 Aug 2019 @ 8:00 am - 10:00 am America/Denver

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We are reading diverse texts that complement Aurobindo’s Savitri , with a particular focus on Paradise Lost by John Milton; The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and other writings from William Blake; and various poems by Walt Whitman, and link these readings into the Savitri reading.

Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol is an epic poem in blank verse by Sri Aurobindo, based upon the theology from the Mahabharata. Its central theme revolves around the transcendence of man as the consummation of terrestrial evolution, and the emergence of an immortal supramental gnostic race upon earth. Unfinished at Sri Aurobindo’s death, Savitri approaches 24,000 lines.


Hi Everyone,

I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to include as background reading, in case anyone wants to read further texts beyond the actual poems, to learn more about things like Whitman’s influence on literature and poetry, who influenced Whitman, examples of poetry that was being written at the same time as Whitman (to give a sense of Walt’s rather massively ground-breaking experiments in verse, and how it diverged remarkably and radically from what came before him), and also Whitman’s influence beyond literature, in (at least what I am familiar with) visual art and music.

So, here are some links I found. But first, the actual poems. I decided not to focus on “Song of Myself,” as I thought we could do that in a later session (and I’d personally prefer to read the whole thing, instead of breaking it up too much, at least in our own reading of it). Instead, if you don’t mind, I’d like to focus on Whitman’s famous triad of elegies, which are all masterpieces like “Song of Myself”": “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” “A I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life,” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Here are links to those poems from Poetry Foundation:

Okay, and here are the other links:

Who Influenced Whitman, and Who Did Whitman Influence (Among Pretty Much Everyone)? (Emerson’s letter to Whitman, after he read the unknown poet’s 1855 Leaves of Grass) (William James, arguably America’s greatest psychologist, among other things - this is an excerpt from his magisterial The Varieties of Religious Experience): (older Bloom reciting Stevens on Whitman) (Olds has many poems, such as “Ode to the Tampon,” “Ode to the Clitoris,” “Ode to the Penis,” etc. which are in many ways homages to Whitman; she is known for an intense emphasis on the body that is definitely “Whitmanesque”):

What Was American Poetry Like Before Whitman Came Along?

What Are Some Ways We Come Close to Whitman, Besides His Poetry? (this link transcribes his notebooks, to see his actual revisions, in other words the actual decisions he was making as he was revising, or how he thought about what he wanted to create, his writing process)

The source below might require a brief explanation: Horace Traubel was Whitman’s Boswell (James Boswell is probably the greatest biographer who ever lived, who wrote his biography about Samuel Johnson, the genius British literary critic and lexicographer, who in some ways made the reading public aware of Shakespeare’s greatness, among many other fabulous achievements; maybe one day we could read some of Johnson’s essays/colums on IC). Traubel spent much time with Whitman in his later years, and seemed to have written down pretty much anything and everything Whitman said or did. For a better description of Traubel’s work, here is a link:

The link below contains selections of Traubel’s Boswellian work:

What Are Some Examples of Whitman’s Influence Beyond Literature?

(I am not focusing here on queer readings of Whitman, but those are definitely relevant and can be found in abundance online and elsewhere. However, I did want to point out Marsden Hartley’s relationship to Whitman. Hartley was gay. He was also just a wonderful visual artist, one of my personal faves, and his depictions of men undoubtedly take a note from Whitman’s (and Hartley’s own) intense homosexual longings and imaginings:

Bloom on Whitman and Emerson’s last meeting:

Though Whitman later denied it, Emerson made the first “Leaves of Grass” possible. Emerson credited Whitman with the “Appalachian enlargement” of our literature. “As sane as the sun” was one of Whitman’s final tributes to Emerson. My own favorite among Whitman’s anecdotes is of his last visit to the then senile Emerson. The greatest of our poets so stationed his chair that he could stare fully at the benign countenance of his mentor, and each sat silently, Whitman in loving reverie, Emerson in the tragic solitude of an Alzheimer’s victim. It was the final act in a grand drama of influence that is still ongoing in our literary culture.


Lastly, although Dickinson was virtually unknown when Whitman was sounding his barbaric yawp from the rooftops, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her here, as the third pivotal figure, besides Emerson and Whitman, for inaugurating a specifically American mode of poetry - poetry that is so different from Whitman’s, in many interesting ways that are worth talking about exploring. Here is a quick description of some of Whitman and Dickinson’s differences:

Here is a link to some of Dickinson’s poems:


I imagine Walt would have loved this performance. The connections are pretty obvious. Perhaps, Blake would have liked it, too? I think their anarchic spirit runs through our contemporary art scenes.


Amazingly Beautiful & Divine!