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Stephen Cushman

Stephen Cushman is Robert C. Taylor Professor of English at the University of Virginia. In addition to two books of poems and two studies of American poetry, he has published Bloody Promenade: Reflections on a Civil War Battle (1999). He chairs the Advisory Board of VQR.

Author

Whitman and Patriotism

Spring 2005 | Essays

What some might call Whitman's essentialism is only one of the features of his statement about the United States that might mark it, in some eyes, as dated, obsolete, historically confined and limited. Another is his use of the plural verb “are,” as opposed to the “is” that gradually became dominant after the American Civil War forever rearranged the notion of an American nation. Only 79 years into the American experiment in 1855, Whitman’s grammar reflects the evolving balance between, on the one hand, the plura of e pluribus and, on the other, the emerging unum under construction. In addition, without listening closely to history, or to various histories, we might not catch the note of desperate, even doomed, hopefulness behind the vatic pronouncement that the United States are essentially the greatest poem. With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act the year before and the first virulent eruptions of the killing that would go on for more than a decade, Whitman is not so much swaggering and flexing as he is urgently speaking a spell or charm against social and political malignancy, even as it too rapidly metastasizes.

The Kingdom of Things

Summer 1997 | Poetry

When the heart valve buckles
or the brain vessel ruptures and I,
at last accomplished, stumble sloshed
in blood over the edge of the earth
into the faulty recall of a few people,
don't weep for me.

Master of Melody

Autumn 2003 | Criticism

But disorderliness does not mean that the essays and the volume as a whole have no continuity or coherence. As an index would have shown (alas, there is none, but more on this absence later), names and topics recur throughout Melodies Unheard, and these recurrences shape the book and reveal much about its author.

Spoon River Bard

Winter 2002 | Criticism

Turn to the Edgar Lee Masters entry in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (I happen to be looking at the 14th edition, published in 1968, the centennial anniversary of Masters's birth), and you will find brief quotations from five poems that originally appeared in the poet's most famous work, Spoon River Anthology (1915). Only one poem, "Anne Rutledge," contributes two different quotations, the first consisting of two lines that open this famous twelve-line epitaph ("Out of me unworthy and unknown / The vibrations of deathless music") and the second bearing the annunciation at the core of Rutledge's posthumous monologue: "I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds, / Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln." If I were editing the next edition of Bartlett's and did not have to worry about space, I would include the following two lines as well: "Wedded to him, not through union, / But through separation."