Long, too long America

Long, too long America,
Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn’d from joys and prosperity only,
But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not,
And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en-masse really are,
(For who except myself has yet conceiv’d what your children en-masse really are?)

*

“Long, too long America” first appeared in Drum-Taps in 1865. In the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass the poem is placed as the twenty-fourth poem in the forty-seven poem sequence. The only change made to the poem after its original publication was the title and the first line from “Oh land” to “America.”

The five-line poem is composed in one sentence, ending in a parenthetical with a question mark. Whitman describes the learned joy and prosperities of the road the country has travelled. The third line, that begins with the word “But,” and adds the  challenges of the journey, the “anguish, advancing, grappling with direst / fate and recoiling not.” The last two lines echo each other, except the very last is a rephrasing projected to a “myself” and ending in a question. As Jerry F. King writes, “Long, Too Long America” is unlike Whitman’s other Civil War poems that address more directly personal losses and tragedies. The poem is more directly concerned with Whitman’s prewar visions of America, “and he dares to hope that this land can emerge stronger than before the War; this is because up until then America had ‘learned from joys and prosperity only.’”

As King notes, the poem was circulated widely during  the 1960s at many anti-Vietnam war meetings. More recently, “Long, Too Long America” was adapted as the first song in Caryn Block’s song cycle “Long, Too Long America,” a song cycle for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and piano in the Hampsong Foundation’s Song of America Project. A performance of the song cycle took place at The Opera Project at St. Andrew’s Church in Lambertville, New Jersey, in 2012.

Bibliography and Further Readings Harold Aspiz, Walt Whitman and the Body Beautiful (1980); Democratic Vistas at the xroads American Studies home page at the University of Virginia; Betsy Erkkila, Whitman the Political Poet (1989); Jerry F. King, in J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (1998); Long, too long America, Poetry Foundation; George B. Hutchinson, The Ecstatic Whitman: Literary Shamanism & the Crisis of the Union (1986).

Credits Composed by Alexa Reichardt. 

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American Poetry and Poetics by Mark C. Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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