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For virtual class on Tuesday (2/7)

We had a really wide-ranging discussion on Thursday.  One thing I tried to point to throughout the discussion was Whitman’s use of motifs.

Motifs are repeated elements of a poem or narrative – -images, words, phrases, scenes, etc.  As these elements are repeated they emphasize and elaborate meanings and help to connect the scattered parts of a long poem like “Song of Myself.”

One obvious motif in “Song of Myself” is “grass” – – Whitman repeatedly invokes the word and image throughout the poem, sometimes directly and at other times more indirectly.  As a motif proliferates across a text it not only consolidates or builds meaning, it also develops new meanings.  You can think of the use of a motif as the creation of a poem’s vocabulary and lexicon.

In her blog post, Alejandra commented on the grass, but she also pointed to another, less-noticed motif in the poem – – the “child.”  We talked about some of the ways this motif fits into Whitman’s larger arguments about epistemology, authority, and hierarchy.  In his post on Specimen Days, Max pondered the image of the bird and how the bird mediates between earth and sky, a kind of analogy for Whitman’s position and movement within the poem.

Your goal for Tuesday is to explore Whitman’s use of motifs in “Song of Myself” to build up rich contexts of meaning.  How will you do this?

First, find a motif that you like or think is important to the poem.  (“Grass” is, unfortunately, off limits – – as we’ve discussed this and it’s a bit too obvious.)  There are so many motifs to choose from in the poem: rooms, song/singers, trees, flowers, native americans (including native american-inspired words), the sea, etc.  Select a motif that occurs at least several times throughout the poem.  The motif can occur directly, as in a mention of a “room,” or indirectly as in the description of actions in a room or houses (e.g. think the 29th bather).

Second, track the motif.  Collect all the instances of the motif, all the lines where the motif occurs.  Copy and paste these into your blog post.

Third, explicate the motif.  Don’t paraphrase the line or lines which contain the motif.  Instead, explain its significance in each instance and context.  If you’ve found four instances of the motif, you’ll need to explain its particular significance in each of these instances.  If you’ve found more than four instances, cite as many as you can but comment on no more than four.

Fourth, reflect on the meaning of the pattern created by the motifs.  How does the motif help Whitman to articulate his ideas about nature or the self or the poet?  What meanings does he use from the motif to elaborate or develop these kinds of larger ideas?

Fifth, sum up what the motif shows you and your blog reader about Whitman’s poem and his aspirations.

Blog all of this by Tuesday morning!

Questions? Email me or stop by the virtual office hour on Monday at 11 a.m.

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