Divided in Two: Annexing Writing in an Attempt to Create a Unified National Image

In 1870, Walt Whitman published his fifth edition of Leaves of Grass. Whitman had begun working on this version as early as 1869, and copies were on sale in New York the winter of 1870-1871.  However, Whitman was largely ignored by critics and the public alike which annoyed the poet who thought of the printing as a major publishing event. Thus, he reissued Leaves of Grass with the Passage to India annex, a 120 page section of 74 poems, 24 which were new pieces while the others were pulled from other additions.  This version was published into 1872 but maintained  its 1870 copyright.

As can be observed by the two tables of contents, Whitman clearly distinguishes Leaves from the annex and the additional supplements, After all, Not to create Only and the pamphlet, As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free, and Other Poems . The separate pagination  seen in the table of contents further segregates the older sections with his newer and reformulated work.   Thus the reader encounters an encyclopedic copy of Whitman’s work all bound between two covers while the distinct and deliberate delineation between the sections make it as though one is engaging in different groups of texts.

The Civil War has a significant impact on the 1872 version where Whitman explores his idea of “democratic nationality,”  which he believes could be deferred but not defeated. This notion took form in Passage to India, where the Luke Mancuso believed that the poet conveyed his sense of urgency and deemphasizes the individual for a composite image of national identity. It has been pointed out that the themes of voyaging ships and death characterize the annex, suggesting that Whitman is simultaneously prepared to rebuild this shattered land but acknowledges the death of both thousands of soldiers and antebellum notions of self understanding.  The second annex After all, Not to create Only celebrates the technological ingenuity of American industry, which Whitman thought could act as rehabilitating remedies to the aftermath of the Civil War. In many ways, all three parts of the 1872 version are connected. Poems about the Civil War  and Whitman’s ideas of American identity span the volume, for Whitman thought that this horrendous American conflict shaped national character.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Washington D.C.: Smith and McDougal, 1872).
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Washington D.C.” Smith and McDougal, 1872).

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