Rosa’s Presentation

Since this class is called “Performing American Literature,” I thought I might start with an adaptation of Walt Whitman from one of my favorite artists:

(3 minutes, 43 seconds)

After watching this music video, I want you to think about the following:

  • How do the song and the music video stay true to the themes of the original poem?

*Possible points of discussion:

  1. Its relation to the section title, “Children of Adam,” in which “I Sing The Body Electric” is published.
  2. The simultaneous sensuality/spirituality of the body and soul.
  3. The albino black man: a reversal of the racial master/slave hierarchy in Whitman’s poem.
  • To what extent does Lana del Rey’s song deviate from the original poem? To what extent is it a ‘Song of Herself’?

“The love of the body of the man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account, that of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect” (Whitman 81).

Yet, while both are “perfect,” Whitman’s poem places a greater emphasis on the male body, describing it predominantly in sensual terms, while the female body is framed in spiritual or functional terms. How does Lana del Rey reverse Whitman’s treatment of the male and female form in her music video?

If we have time:

  • Of the Civil War poems in “Drum-Taps,” a critical 22-year-old Henry James wrote,

“It exhibits the effort of an essentially prosaic mind to lift itself, by a prolonged muscular strain, into poetry.”

Do you agree or disagree with James? Admittedly, Walt Whitman’s poems do sound a lot like prose. What effect does the prosaic nature of his poetry have on its message and overall tone? Would Whitman’s depiction of the Civil War gain or lose potency if it had been written in traditionally metrical poetry?

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