Special Topics: Single American Author - Walt Whitman


Its no coincidence that the psychopathic drug dealer at the heart of Breaking Bad, Walter White, shares initials with the great poet of unrealized possibilities, or that his sublime hymn to cosmic order, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” gets recited by a chemist in a state of the art underground meth lab. America still doesn’t know what to do with Walt Whitman. Our national bard was, and is, an enigma. He has been seen, variously, as a prophet, a hustler, a madman, a health nut, a spirit guide, a sex therapist, a grief counselor, the flowering of a new kind of human, and the end of civilization as we know it. He is also the best friend you’ll ever have, and he’ll tell you why. This course will pursue the manifold mysteries at the heart of Whitman’s extraordinary poetry. We will read carefully through his magnum opus, Leaves of Grass, its rich array of praise songs, love poems, elegies, satires, its psychic landscapes, its explorations of despair, desire, and tough-minded hope. We will look for him in his time, the America of Transcendentalism and the Civil War, and in the poetry he drew upon, the Bible, the Vedic Hymns, Homer, and in the poetry that draws upon his work, Hart Crane, Ginsberg, and others.

Area requirements for the English major (Area I, II, or III) to be determined by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. One course.