Walt Still Hasn’t Found What He’s Looking For

Of all the Whitman I have enjoyed this week, his poem “Facing West From California’s Shores” has intrigued me the most. He creates such an interesting dichotomy by combining youthful and aged components. In the same breath Whitman describes himself both as a “child” and “very old.” The poem goes on to list exotic places such as “the vales of Kashmir” in an adventurous, exploratory way that celebrates freedom. However, with the image of “the circle almost circled” a slightly weary tone emerges. All of this is building to the simple but compelling hypothetical that is the last line “But where is what I started for, so long ago?”

Walt Whitman, the champion of American freedom and expansion has seen and done incredible things but expresses in this poem his inability to be completely fulfilled or satisfied. He is standing on the western shore of a country that was once utterly unknown, but now that he has seen it, what is left to be discovered?

This expression of Whitman’s wanderlust reminds me of a quote from the author Wallace Stegner : “It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.”

Do you think that Whitman is referring to something specific that he is personally searching for ? Or is he speaking on behalf of the many pioneers who moved westward searching for new lives?

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2 Responses to Walt Still Hasn’t Found What He’s Looking For

  1. Anton Vander Zee says:

    Great reading of this poem, and I love the photograph you choose from Thomas Eakins, the famous American painter, sculptor and photographer. Such a striking image. The critic Betsy Erkkila has a lovely little article on Whitman and empire in which she offers a lovely reading of this poem.

  2. Nicole Monforton says:

    The fact that the poem is titled “Facing West from California’s Shores” makes me think that the poem is referring to Americans in search for a happier or more fulfilling life out west, but can be applied to any people going to any place in search of something. In such a short amount of words, the poem says a lot about the way people live their lives. At a youthful age, one is capable of yearning for life in every way life can be taken in, but after all is said and done and one returns home, does anyone ever really feel fulfilled? Does anyone ever feel any different than they had before? Whitman may be getting at the idea that we always want more, no matter where we’ve been or how much we have done with our lives.

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