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Whitman, American Indians & Clams

In the first edition of Leaves of Grass “Song of Myself” Walt Whitman defines each part of his poem. He breaks each paragraph of his biographical poem to reflect on different periods, experiences and emotions he was feeling at that moment. In paragraphs 18-19 Walt Whitman talks about “self” with a mystical and dreamy interpretation; his definition of self, identification, trans- figuration of life, I, You, Me, God, and every being mystical or not. He transcends the reader in to his eyes and helps us to travel and become one with him. In some of  Whitman’s writing he seems to have a great sense of interest with Native  American Indians.

Walt Whitman’s Quahog

To be in any form, what is that?
If nothing lay more developed the quahog and its callous shell were enough.

Mine is no callous shell,
I have instant conductors all over me whether I pass or stop,
They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me.

I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy,
To touch my person to some one else’s is about as much as I can stand.

Is this then a touch? . . . . quivering me to a new identity,
Flames and ether making a rush for my veins,
Treacherous tip of me reaching and crowding to help them,
My flesh and blood playing out lightning, to strike what is hardly different from

Walt Whitman was one of the only American poets to work in the Indian Bureau of the Department of the Interior in 1865. During this time he met several impressive Native delegations and had what he called “quite animated and significant” ( retrieved on October 29th, 2009).

Growing up in Long Island and traveling through-out the United States Whitman encountered many Native Americans, He was not unaffected by them but showed an interest towards them in his writing.

As a boy growing up in Long Island, Whitman had encounters with the Native Americans as well as when he was an editor in New Orleans, he lived there for about a year or so. Whitman also admired the Indian Troops that fought in the Civil War where Whitman was a Nurse. ( retrieved on October 29th, 2009). In the 1880’s Whitman traveled to Canada and visited a Chippewa settlement.

Throughout Whitman’s writing, you can see his interest with the Native Americans,  In some of his writings he uses Native words expressing his feeling. One of Whitmans earliest published poems really captures that observation and kindliness with the natives.



Before the dark-brow’d sons of Spain,
A captive Indian maiden stood;
Imprison’d where the moon before
Her race as princes trod.

The rack had riven her frame that day—
But not a sigh or murmur broke
Forth from her breast; calmly she stood,
And sternly thus she spoke:—

“The glory of Peru is gone;
Her proudest warriors in the fight—
Her armies, and her Inca’s power
Bend to the Spaniard’s might.

“And I—a Daughter of the Sun—
Shall I ingloriously still live?
Shall a Peruvian monarch’s child
Become the white lord’s slave?

“No: I’d not meet my father’s frown
In the free spirit’s place of rest,
Nor seem a stranger midst the bands
Whom Manitou has blest.”

Her snake-like eye, her cheek of fire,
Glowed with intenser, deeper hue;
She smiled in scorn, and from her robe
A poisoned arrow drew.

“Now, paleface see! the Indian girl
Can teach thee how to bravely die:
Hail! spirits of my kindred slain,
A sister ghost is nigh!”

Her hand was clenched and lifted high—
Each breath, and pulse, and limb was still’d;
An instant more the arrow fell:
Thus died the Inca’s child.

In Whitman’s 1842 Novel, Franklyn Evans or The Inebrate there is also a chapter where he shows his interest, “the death of wind foot” little jane. Whitman also wrote frequently about this intrest in some of his articles for the newspaper.

Filed by nicoleg at November 5th, 2009 under

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