This poem was written during the American Civil War. Whitman wrote ‘Long, too long America’, in support of constitutional democracy and the Union. In this short poem, the poet tells his fellow countrymen that they had a long way to go. The glorious past had kept them in peace. But, then, when darkness engulfed America and her countrymen, the people of the country had to respond to the poet’s call. They had to show the non-constitutional forces the strength of their children.
This poem begins with a clarion call to the Americans. It was the time when America needed her people the most. The anti-constitutional forces tried to eliminate the democratic principles of the country. To stop this, her people had to regroup. The “even and peaceful” roads had taught them to be content with their lives. But, when Whitman was asking them to join, then America was facing a dire threat from inside. Hence, at the end of the poem, he said, “For who except myself has yet conceiv’d what your children really are?”
It is a short poem having five lines. The first line is the shortest one and the rest of the lines in this poem are long. The pause at the end of the first line breaks into a serious proclamation. This poem is in a single line, the ideas joined together by the use of the parenthesis. In this poem, there is not any rhyme scheme. However, the last two lines rhyme together for the repetition at the end of those lines. Apart from that, the poet mostly uses the iambic meter. There are a few metrical variations in this poem.
There are several literary devices in ‘Long, too long America’. First of all, the poem begins with an apostrophe. Here, the poet tells the country that she has a long way to go. The reference to America is also an example of metonymy. Here, the poet refers to his countrymen. Thereafter, the “traveling roads” is a metaphor for the course of life. The second and third lines together form an antithesis. Moreover, the lines of the poem are joined together through the use of enjambment. The last line of the poem is a rhetorical question or interrogation. The poet uses several repetitions in this poem.
Long, too long America,
Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn’d from joys and prosperity only,
But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not,
Whitman’s poem, ‘Long, too long America’ begins with an invocation to the motherland. The poetic persona of the poem tells his country that she has a long way to go. It is a clarion call to not only to his motherland but also to his fellow countrymen. The traveling roads of their lives are all even and peaceful. It is a reference to the period before the Civil War. At that time, America was peaceful and flourishing. Then people of America learned from the “joys and prosperity” of their country only.
In contrast to that, during the Civil War, there were “crises of anguish, advancing, grappling, with direst fate.” There was no way to recoil. Hence, the people of America have to be strong enough to face the challenges. They should join hands to create a bright future again, together.
And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en-masse really are,
(For who except myself has yet conceiv’d what your children en-masse really are?)
In the following lines of the poem, the poet poses a challenge to his countrymen. According to the poet, if they have rightly conceived the idea, they must show it to the world. They must send their children to show how they care about the country. At that moment, America needed those who were committed to the betterment of the motherland.
In the last line of the poem, Whitman repeats the idea. But this time, he uses an interrogation. Such kind of repetition of an idea is a rhetorical device that helps the speaker convince the audience or readers. Here, the poet says that he is aware of the courage of his countrymen. But those who are trying to demolish the democratic spirit of the country do not know the fact. Hence, they have to prove them wrong by standing together. If they do so, there will be no other person who will be as happy as Whitman.
Whitman wrote this poem, ‘Long, too long America’ for the first publication of “Drum-Taps” (1865). After the publication of “Leaves of Grass” in 1881, he placed this poem at the exact center of the “Drum-Taps” section. This poem is preceded by 23 Civil War poems and followed by 23 others. In this way, the poem merges the militant themes of the early Civil War poems with the peace and reconciliation themes of the later poems. Whitman made only a single change in this poem after it got published. In 1881, he changed the title and the first line of the poem. He replaced “O Land” with only “America”, thus giving the poem a more nationalistic touch. During the 1960s, the poem gained popularity and was widely circulated at many anti-Vietnam war meetings.
Here is a list of a few poems that are similar to the nationalist themes present in Whitman’s ‘Long, too long America’.
- I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes – In this one of the best Langston Hughes poems, the poet proclaims to the world that he is proud to be an American.
- I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman – This is one of the best Walt Whitman poems. Here, Whitman sees a thriving American society from an optimistic perspective.
- Battle-Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe – In this poem, the poet talks about Christ’s reappearance on earth to do justice with those who were suffering and being oppressed.
- Beat! Beat! Drums! by Walt Whitman – This poem was written around 1861 when the American Civil War was beginning. The central topic of the poem is that the war would be a fair gesture.
You can read about 10 of the Best War Poems here.