Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
*Brooklyn. City, which is now part of New York City, to which Whitman’s family moved when his father began work as a carpenter in 1823. Whitman lived in Brooklyn intermittently through the next three decades. He became editor of a leading local newspaper, The Brooklyn Eagle, in 1846, and formed a habit of walking in the city observing every aspect of urban life. His poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” describes people traveling between Brooklyn and Manhattan, using the “heights of Brooklyn to the south and east” and the traffic in the passage between the Hudson and East Rivers as symbols of city life and energy. He describes the “fires from the foundry chimneys/ burning high and glaringly into the night” as an image of industrial might, and the terrain of Brooklyn–“Brooklyn of ample hills was mine”–as homeground.
*Manhattan. For Whitman, “million-footed Manhattan” was the central city of the new American nation. In admiration he asked, “Ah, what can ever be more stately and admirable to me than mast-hemm’d Manhattan?” Multiple vignettes of life in the street (“the blab of the pave”) come together to form an indelible portrait, which images such as “blacksmiths with grimed and hairy chests environ the anvil.”
*United States. In his preface to the first edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman says that the “United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.” He saw himself as literally an organic element of the new land. “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love.” In boldly accepting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s call for an American poet, Whitman frequently proclaimed himself a genuine voice of the nation. “In the name of these States”–a characteristic formulation–expresses his position, and through his poems, there are apostrophes to and evocations of individual states and regions. “We dwell awhile in every city and town,” he asserts in “On Journeys Through the States,” writing many passages like Section 14 from “Starting From Paumanok”:
Whitman returns throughout his poetry to his evolving conception of the United States by using place-names such as “Okonee, Koosa, Ottawa, Monongahela, Sauk, Natchez, Chattahoochee, Kaqueta, Oronoco,/ Wabash, Miami, Saginaw, Chippewa, Oshkosh, Walla-Walla.” He also uses physical features, sensual imagery, folkloric depictions as poetic persona, and some historic incidents.