Why We Will Need Walt Whitman in 2020 (Opinion)














With our democracy in crisis, the poet and prophet of the American ideal should be our guide.


When Walt Whitman arrived in Washington at the end of 1862 to take up residence in the city and serve as a hospital volunteer, the construction of the Capitol dome was not yet complete. In a dispatch published in the Oct. 4, 1863, edition of The New-York Times, Whitman described this “vast eggshell, built of iron and glass, this dome — a beauteous bubble” that “emerges calm and aloft from the hill, out of a dense mass of trees.”


The poet recounted how a “few days ago, poking about there, eastern side” he found the yet to be hoisted Statue of Freedom that now crowns the Capitol dome “all dismembered, scattered on the ground, by the basement front.” In retrospect it’s a rather on-the-nose metaphor, this personified representation of liberty “standing in the mud” while the nation immolated itself in civil war, yet still visible to our greatest poet and prophet of democracy, perhaps signifying the incomplete task of the American project.


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