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Walt Whitman, half-length portrait, seated, facing left, wearing hat and sweater, holding butterfly

[Detail] Walt Whitman holding butterfly

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Bring all the art and science of the world, and baffle and humble it with one spear of grass

Notebook LC #80 "Earliest" Notebook (Holloway No.1), 1847, page 25. Walt Whitman Notebooks, 1847-1860s

History, especially the history of culture, is often powerfully illustrated in literature. Whitman's work provides the means for a lesson in analyzing and interpreting literary symbolism. Look at Whitman's journals or other writings and discuss the breadth of Whitman's interests to provide a background. Then, have students generate as many meanings as possible for Whitman's use of grass as a symbol on pages 24-25, and 83 of Notebook #80 and in the title and body of his life's work. Consider what Whitman's use of this symbol might indicate about the culture in which he lived and for which he wrote.