Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself will take a collective approach to a close reading of America’s democratic verse epic, first published without a title in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass and later titled Song of Myself in the 1881 edition. The poem expresses not only Whitman’s all-encompassing poetic vision, but also a radical imagining of a new kind of democracy for America and elsewhere. Published on the eve of the U.S. Civil War and revised during and after the war, Song of Myself ultimately teaches us not how to participate as individuals in a society, but how the “I” is never individual. To that end, Every Atom will take place as a conversation among multitudes: a renowned poet and translator, Christopher Merrill; a preeminent Whitman scholar, Ed Folsom; and you, along with many others who will enter into a spirited exchange about how this challenging and mind-altering poem accretes new meaning for every reader.
We will offer robust course materials, but just as important will be our lively and generous interactions as readers of the poem on our discussion boards and social media. We hope that these discussions will propel us all into myriad new ways of looking at ourselves and our world. Through reading Song of Myself, we’ll touch on such topics as democracy, sexuality and the body, science, politics, nature, and the cosmos. These topics will arise through a reading of the poem as well as through exploring the historical and textual matters surrounding it. Further, we’ll think about the problems of translating the poem as it moves into other languages and contexts.
Online resources such as The Whitman Archive and The Whitman Web will help us navigate our course. Every Atom takes place over six weeks, from February 17 through March 29, 2014. Each week will comprise three class sessions: two asynchronous video sessions and one live breakout session. After each session, our instructors will pose a question to prompt discussions in online forums and social media. We encourage you to participate in this course at whatever level you prefer; there are no requirements. We also wish to draw a range of readers, from those unfamiliar with American poetry to those who are looking to approach this modern classic from a new direction. Please join us as we “tramp a perpetual journey” of reading and thinking “onward and outward”––together.
What To Read
"Song of Myself" exists in several iterations under several titles. For the purposes of this course, we'll primarily work from the version of "Song of Myself" found in the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass. Notably, this is the version that divides the poem into 52 sections. If you prefer not to read the poem online at The Whitman Archive or The Whitman Web, you may print the poem directly from The Whitman Archive, The Poetry Foundation, or any number of places online. If you would like a book to work from, we recommend Song of Myself: and Other Poems, edited by Robert Hass and annotated by Hass and Paul Ebenkamp. This book contains both the 1855 and 1881 editions of the poem. Otherwise, any 1881 or later edition of Leaves of Grass containing "Song of Myself" in 52 sections will work.
Note: Saturday breakout sessions will begin at 11 a.m. CST. Monday and Wednesday video sessions will be posted at 8 a.m. CST.
Monday 2/17: Video Session #1: Origins
Videos Created by Professors Ed Folsom and Christopher Merrill, followed by a question on Origins to be discussed in the Every Atom discussion forum
Read: "General Introduction" here on The Whitman Web. Also begin to explore the transformation of "Song of Myself" through the various editions of Leaves of Grass here on The Whitman Archive.
Note: The poem known as "Song of Myself" begins on page 13 with "I celebrate myself" in the 1855 edition. In the 1856 edition, it is called "Poem of Walt Whitman, an American." In 1860, it is simply, "Walt Whitman." So it is in 1867 and 1871. Finally, in 1881, it becomes "Song of Myself."
Wednesday 2/19: Video Session #2: Structure
Followed by a question on Structure for discussion in the forum
Read: Sections 1-5 of the poem and its commentaries on The Whitman Web and The Whitman Archive
Saturday 2/22: Live Breakout Session with the Every Atom Teaching Assistants
Monday 2/24: Video Session #3: Main Characters
Followed by a question on Main Characters for discussion in the forum
Read: Sections 6-11 of the poem and its commentaries on The Whitman Web and The Whitman Archive
Wednesday 2/26: Video Session #4: Democracy
Followed by a question on Democracy for discussion in the forum
Read: Sections 12-17 of the poem and its commentaries on The Whitman Web and The Whitman Archive
Saturday 3/1: Live Breakout Session with the Teaching Assistants
Wednesday 3/5: Video Session #6: Sexuality and the Body
Followed by a question on Sexuality and the Body for discussion in the forum
Read: Sections 23-29 of the poem and its commentaries on The Whitman Web and The Whitman Archive
Saturday 3/8: Live Breakout Session with the Teaching Assistants
Wednesday 3/12: Video Session #8: Politics, followed by discussion
Followed by a question on Politics for discussion in the forum
Read: Sections 34-38 of the poem and its commentaries on The Whitman Web and The Whitman Archive
Saturday 3/15: Live Breakout Session with the Teaching Assistants
Monday 3/17: Video Session #9: Title and Revision
Followed by a question on Title and Revision for discussion in the forum
Read: Sections 39-43 of the poem and its commentaries on The Whitman Web and The Whitman Archive
Wednesday 3/19: Video Session #10: Beginning of the Poem
Followed by a question on Beginning of the Poem for discussion in the forum
Read: Sections 44-48 of the poem and its commentaries on The Whitman Web and The Whitman Archive
Saturday 3/22: Live Breakout Session with the Teaching Assistants
Wednesday 3/26: Video Session #12: Onward and Outward
Followed by a question on Onward and Outward for discussion in the forum
Saturday 3/29: Live Course Conclusion Session with Professors Folsom and Merrill and the Teaching Assistants