Betsy Erkkila: On "For You O Democracy"

Whitman's increased emphasis on adhesiveness was also a response to the deep cultural fear among Northerners and Southerners alike that dismemberment would give rise to a civil or military dictatorship. In poem no. 5 (''For You 0 Democracy"), Whitman invokes the Union as something more than a legal compact that could be held together by the machinations of lawyers or the use of arms:


Were you looking to be held together by the lawyers?

By an agreement on a paper? Or by arms?

Placing himself in the service of "Democracy ... ma femme," Whitman announces his intent to "twist and intertwist" the states by circulating "new friendship" throughout the land: "Affection shall solve every one of the problems of freedom," he observes. The problems of freedom to which he refers are the same as those encountered by the framers of the Constitution: how to ensure a maximum of freedom without inviting either a tyranny of the majority or a tyranny of the State. What the founding fathers sought to do through an appeal to republican virtue, the poet seeks to do by arousing the bonds of comradeship and love:

The dependence of Liberty shall be lovers,

The continuance of Equality shall be comrades.

These shall tie and band stronger than hoops of iron,

I, extatic, O partners! O lands! henceforth with the

        love of lovers tie you.

I will make the continent indissoluble,

I will make the most splendid race the sun ever yet

        shone upon,

I wfll make divine magnetic lands.


Title Betsy Erkkila: On "For You O Democracy" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Betsy Erkkila Criticism Target Walt Whitman
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 14 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Whitman: the Political Poet
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