Every Atom | No. 99

Beth Jensen

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

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In what will become Section 15 in later editions, Whitman’s expansive catalogue embraces all groups, including those marginalized in society: the “lunatic,” the “malformed limbs,” the “quadroon girl,” the “drunkard,”  the “newly-come immigrants,” and the “woollypates.” He excludes no one and embraces everyone: the bride “unrumples her white dress;” the “opium eater” reclines “with rigid head and just-opened lips;” the “prostitute” with the pimpled neck “draggles her shawl;” and the “President” holds “a cabinet council… surrounded by the great secretaries.” To the crowds who “laugh” at the prostitute  and to the men who “jeer,” he exclaims, “Miserable! I do not laugh…nor jeer.” As he later notes, “I make appointments with all,” the “wicked just the same as the righteous.” As that section concludes, Whitman, the Democratic Poet, becomes one with those he observes, regardless of race, gender, or class: “And these one and all tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them, / And such as it is to be of these more or less I am.”  


Dr. Beth Jensen is a Professor of English at Georgia State University.  She has published articles on Whitman and Dickinson and a book Leaving the M/other: Whitman, Kristeva, and Leaves of Grass.


Cover art by Ben Rendall