Friday, October 1, 2010

A Broadway Pageant by Walt Whitman (1860)

Walt Whitman is considered to be one of America's most revered literary poets. Though he did not witness the visit to Honolulu of the Japanese ambassadors, Whitman was a witness among the throngs of New Yorkers who welcomed the Japanese Embassy to the city in 1860.

To commemorate the event, Whitman penned the poem 'A Broadway Pageant.' It was originally published in the New York Times in June, 1860, and in Leaves of Grass.

Edward Whitley of Lehigh University discusses this work in his article Whitman's Occasional Nationalism: "A Broadway Pageant" and the Space of Public Poetry in the March 2006 edition of Nineteenth-Century Literature. As the abstract states:

Despite the attention given to New York City as a source of the poetic imagery and democratic energy in Walt Whitman's poetry, the space of mid-century New York has never fully been explicated as a site of convergence for Whitman's conflicting allegiances to a local working-class urban subculture, the global community, and the United States itself. The reason for this critical lacuna stems in part from a tendency to focus on Whitman's private lyrics rather than on the type of poetry that is necessarily connected with a specific geographic space-namely, public occasional verse. In "A Broadway Pageant" (1860), the only occasional poem that Whitman wrote after publishing the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855 and before the outbreak of the Civil War, New York City is presented as a site where city workers and international merchants converge during a moment of national celebration. Originally published in the New York Times to commemorate a parade held for the Meiji Japanese ambassadors who had come to Manhattan in 1860 to ratify a trade agreement with the United States, "A Broadway Pageant" demonstrates how the requirements of occasional poetry allow Whitman to articulate the local and global framework within which his otherwise nationalist poetics operates.

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