Roots of Sky-Evolving From Walt Whitman

eolecki's picture

Roots of Sky-EvolvingFrom Walt Whitman

            Thereis a very small portion of formal education that focuses on the unconscious.  I have studied Walt Whitman in high school, under the label of transcendentalist.  However, through this class, I now understand Whitman’s writing style much better.  While most novels or literary pieces we read are reflective of the conscious mind, “Leaves of Grass” uses metonymy, specifically unconscious associations. 

Using stream-of-consciousness and unconscious thoughts is a literary technique that has evolved in many different ways.  We have seen how the unconscious is used in “Leaves of Grass” and also in Sorrows of an American.  By reading these two literary pieces, we can see how unconscious writing evolved from a device used to write a flowing piece of poetry to a section of a novel with a distinct plotline.  Using Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” as an ancestor, I have evolved my own poem, “Roots of Sky”.         

Roots of Sky

I celebrate myself,

         AsI do this, I also celebrate you.

We are the same in material and mind.

Made of the same elements with my thought also being yours.

Everything we are comes from the earth, from the dirt, grass, trees, and streams.


Trees in two parallel lines, leading to space, come share with me, as we sit on the sculpted stone, share your thought and a little more of you belongs to me and abit more of me belongs to you.


We watch the passersby wearing their recently stowed away light summer clothes.  Made of bright colored fabrics andpatterns mirroring the earth.

They walk in pairs, two, three, four, they carry bags filled with their supplies, all the things they need to complete whatever task they embark on.


The air you exhale mixes in the atmosphere, goes through plants, animals, space, and back to my lungs where then it is shared through the rest of my body and then exhaled back into the world and available for your use yet again.


The dirt under our feet, the sky above our heads, every cell in my body and yours is perfectly placed.  Day and night,roots and leaves, air and water, each piece of the universe is in the ideal position.  My relationship with you is perfect, we are made to exist perfectly with one another, as we are with the rest of creation.


Stone building, sprouting grass, patches of dirt, bushes and trees, a girl in a flowing skirt wanders down the dirt path, she looks at her bare feet, confined only by flip flops as she steps off the path into the growing grass.

Over time people zigzag through the center green, each with different goals, or no goals at all. 

A woman walks by with a fast pace stride,

An olderman strolls by with his energetic black dog,

A prospective learner cries for unknown reasons,

Nameless students parade through, enjoying the recently warmed air.  They laugh and play while others read or bask in the unfamiliar sun. Blankets and towels keep their bodies from the grass, as they type away at their shiny laptops.


Things change, and what is our reality now will not be the same; even tomorrow will bring about change. 

Generations have lain upon this grass.  We are connected to them, as we are connected to one another.  We breath the air they left behind, we inhibit the space that was once theirs, but is now ours, and will soon be someone else’s


I used a style similar to Whitman and also his major ideas to develop a new version of the poem.  I tried to model his use of unconscious association, with minimal or no transitions between ideas.  Once I got in the right mindset, it was surprisingly easy to mimic Whitman’s writing style and develop my own ideas and evolve my own poem. 

The first thing I tried to do was use Whitman’s lists of observations and make them more local and modern.  I sat out on Merion Green in the middle of the day and just observed people.  I re-read parts of Whitman and tried to recreate about his almost passive yet involved observations.  Whitman does not assign emotion or intention to the people he observes, he just watches them and loves them and appreciates them as part of his surroundings.  My observations are not as many or as in depth as Whitman’s, but I feel like I understand what it was like for him sitting on the corner ofthe street just watching people and what they were doing.

When I first began to read Whitman it frustrated me when I did not know exactly what he was talking about.  However, I eventually realized that the point is not to always know what he is talking about.  Sometimes you will understand and sometimes you won’t, but there is no way you can understand everything in his poems.  While I was writing, I tried to use this idea to leave just purely descriptive writing and change toa little bit more imaginative ways to describe what I was looking at, even if it meant other people would not understand.  In my poem when I talk about the two lines of parallel trees, it might be easy for people at Bryn Mawr to know that I am describing senior row, but no one outside our community would know in particular what I was describing.  But when I say “leading to space” and “sculpted stone” I am referring to the moon bench.  This type of association is very commonin Whitman, and I have come to appreciate it.  Even if it does not make sense to others, it still helps the poem flow and can lead to other association.     

Lastly, I used a lot of Whitman’s major ideas to write about in my poem.  Nature is a reoccurring theme, as well as oneness, and the perfection of the world.  It is surprisingly easy to weave together these themes with nature as a connection.  Before I began writing, I re-read “Leaves of Grass”. When I read it passively, I started thinking more unconsciously.  I start making more associations that I could not really explain by logic. The point of this type of writing is to be open and free.  As I read Whitman’s description of the oneness he feels with other people it was easy to expand upon his ideas and evolve them to make my own.

As an experimentin Whitman’s ability to generate new thoughts, I would call “Leaves of Grass” a success.  Once it is read in the right way, for flow and meaning instead of content and plot, it is easy to see how new thoughts could rise from it. Without Whitman’s poem, my new short poem would not exist.  “Leaves of Grass” is a direct ancestor to “Roots of Sky” and also all the other thoughts it helped me generate.  I was able to take certain aspects from Whitman’s poem and alter them slightly (artificial selection) and ended up witha newly evolved piece of writing.

Whenever I read anew piece a literature, my thoughts evolve and change, however, the degree to which an evolution takes place varies on the type of literature.  My poem evolved directly from Whitman. I even used the same beginning line. What I wrote is now part of the evolutionary process, and even though it probably will not generate any lineage or offspring of its own, it illustrates the point that evolution is always occurring, especially within literature.  “Leaves of Grass” has had multitudes of offspring, one of which is Sorrows of an American, but in order for evolution to occur based on Whitman’s poem the work does not need to be published.  Just like in biological evolution, some branches stop very soon after they diverge, but they are still a part of evolution as a whole.  


Anne Dalke's picture

modernizing whitman

I’m just delighted with your experiment—what a refreshing way to “get @” Whitman—not to analyze what he does, but by trying to reproduce his experiment in your own location, and words (I am especially fond of the neologisms “flipflops” and “laptops,” and would have you bring them into closer association!). You offer here an appreciation of Whitman that you wouldn’t have gotten to via more conventional academic channels, and you invite your reader into a similar experience. Thank you!

One spot of particular illumination, for me, occurred when you observed that some of your references—to senior row and the moon bench—would be recognizable only to those w/in our community, but “even if it does not make sense to others, it still helps the poem flow and can lead to other association.” What occurs to me is that such associations might occur especially if we aren’t bound by the actual” referents….if we’re not looking for “real-world” origins, we might be freed to go exploring in new “possibility spaces”…

Reading “Roots of Sky” also makes me think differently about a creative exercise I used with one of my American literature classes a few years ago. We conducted an experiment of “playing with constraints,” using the conceit of the Fibonacci sequence (actually, a sophisticated haiku-like form known as "fibonacci poems”) to highlight and pull out the best passages from his (very talky) prose:

Given the Bryn Mawr location of your own poem, you might also be particularly interested in both the May Day and McBride addenda to this experiment:

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