I was reading in yesterday’s Washington Post in a piece called “Beyond ‘Great,’ to Exemplary” that Whitman’s “O Captain!” is one of about five works identified by the National Standards Initiative as it tries to give guidance to high school teachers about what students should know– with Austen, Morrison, and a few others, it was given as an exemplar of something requiring complex interpretive skills, and the article implied that the choice was probably not controversial. This got me thinking about a conversation I had with Professor Nina Mikhalevsky, whose Banned and Dangerous Art course I linked to some weeks ago. She was remarking to me that she can’t believe that Whitman, whom she characterized as a radical thinker, had become such a national icon. At the time, I was focused on Whitman’s desire to be recognized as a poet for/of his nation, which makes iconic status more sensible, but lately I’ve been musing more about. . .
Whitman, American Rebel Idol.
A few examples: