Walt Whitman as the Source for Lehi’s Dream and More? 2016-10-24T05:57:47+00:00

The following article serves as an appendix to “The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics,” an article to be published at The Interpreter, A Journal of Mormon Scripture. It also supplements my earlier work, “Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass?” The latter is a tongue-in-cheek piece “exposing” Walt Whitman’s 1855 work as a superior (albeit impossible) “source” for the 1830 Book of Mormon than the many other modern sources that critics have proposed in their quest to prove plagiarism and fraud. The following supplement extends the argument by showing the rich relationships between one of Whitman’s works and the account of Lehi’s dream and related passages in the Book of Mormon, again showing how easy it is to find random parallels. This is in response to Rick Grunder’s claim that a few parallels between elements in Rochester, New York and the Book of Mormon establish Rochester as the inspiration for the Lehi’s dream in the Book of Mormon.

Walt Whitman as the Source for Lehi’s Dream and More?

The gold standard for plagiarism, in my opinion, is Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which offers numerous parallels for creative parallel finders. On my LDSFAQ page on this issue, “Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass?,”

[1] a large collection of parallels from the 1855 Leaves of Grass to various aspects of the Book of Mormon has already been presented. Here I present some additional findings that occurred by considering Lehi’s dream and other portions of Nephi’s words.

Turning to the original 1855 edition,[2] below is one passage from pages 39–40, abounding in material related to 1 Nephi, some of which is highlighted in bold and annotated in brackets:

Scaling mountains, pulling myself cautiously up, holding on by low

scragged limbs [Nephi often climbed mountains to commune with God. Here the author is scaling the sacred mountain by holding on to a wooden rod, which Joseph apparently upgraded to iron (see “andirons” below)],

Walking the path worn in the grass and beat through the leaves of the brush, [the straight and narrow path, obviously]

Where the quail is whistling betwixt the woods and the wheat-lot,

Where the bat flies in the Seventh-month eve, where the great

goldbug drops through the dark,

Where the brook puts out of the roots of the old tree and flows to

the meadow, [this is the symbol of the oldest tree, the tree of life, with waters of life flowing near its roots, and there is a brook, like the river or fountain of water in Lehi’s dream]

Where cattle stand and shake away flies with the tremulous

shuddering of their hides, [this is Nephi and Lehi’s “shake” theme, as in the shaking of Laman and Lemuel before Lehi in 1 Nephi 2:14, or the shaking off chains and the dust in 2 Nephi 1:23]

Where the cheese-cloth hangs in the kitchen, where andirons straddle [“andiron” may be the inspiration for the iron rod, the key to upgrading the wooden rod of Whitman above]

the hearth-slab, where cobwebs fall in festoons from the rafters;

Where trip-hammers crash, where the press is whirling its cylinders [iron cylinders like iron rods are part of the rotary printing press, printing … what? The Book of Mormon no doubt—thus clinching the connection between the iron rod and the word of God!]

Wherever the human heart beats with terrible throes under its ribs,… [references to guilt and destruction for the wicked, also to Nephi’s heart exclaiming “O wretched man that I am” in 2 Nephi 4:17]

Where the steam-ship trails hind-ways its long pennant of smoke, [the ship on its way to the promised land, plus mists of darkness associated with dark waters]

Where the fin of the shark cuts like a black chip out of the water, [the perils of the gulf!]

Where the half-burn’d brig is riding on unknown currents,

Where shells grow to her slimy deck, where the dead are corrupting below; [more foreboding imagery of destruction in the gulf of woe]

Where the dense-starr’d flag is borne at the head of the regiments [the Gentile nation of 1 Nephi 13],

Approaching Manhattan up by the long-stretching island,

Under Niagara, the cataract falling like a veil over my countenance, [the “veil” from the mists of darkness churned up by Niagara falls]

Upon a door-step, upon the horse-block of hard wood outside, [the door, of course, is the gate to the narrow path]

Upon the race-course, or enjoying picnics or jigs or a good game of

base-ball, [the race-course is another symbol of the straight and narrow path to victory]

At he-festivals, with blackguard gibes, ironical license,

bull-dances, drinking, laughter, [here we have the mocking and drunken revelry of the wicked men in their “he-festivals”]

At the cider-mill tasting the sweets of the brown mash, sucking the

juice through a straw,

At apple-peelings wanting kisses for all the red fruit I find, [but the author gets past all that destruction, all that mocking, by clinging to the low-scragged limbs/rod to finally obtain the fruit of the tree of life and to be greeted with a divine kiss].[3]

Further parallels to the Book of Mormon on pages 40 and 41 are easily found:

Where the mocking-bird sounds … [inspiration for the mocking within the great and spacious building, which is soon alluded to below]

Through the gymnasium, through the curtain’d saloon, through the

office or public hall;… [all symbols of worldly great and spacious buildings]

Pleas’d with the tune of the choir of the whitewash’d church, [the heavenly choir Lehi heard?]

Pleas’d with the earnest words of the sweating Methodist preacher,

impress’d seriously at the camp-meeting; [whoa, here we even have a reference to the idea of Joseph attending camp meetings and meeting Methodist preachers]

Looking in at the shop-windows of Broadway the whole forenoon, [more great and spacious building imagery, with fine apparel being marketed]

flatting the flesh of my nose on the thick plate glass, [glass plates? brass plates? Another giveaway!]

Wandering the same afternoon with my face turn’d up to the clouds, [Nephi’s prayerful reverie]

or down a lane or along the beach,…

Far from the settlements studying the print of animals’ feet, or the

moccasin print, [a reference to new settlements in the New World and Native Americans]

By the cot in the hospital reaching lemonade to a feverish patient, [and here we have the origin of the name given to the Native Americans, clear enough to convince any honest observer: Lemonade = Lamanite, of course!]

Nigh the coffin’d corpse when all is still, examining with a candle; [clearly Ishmael’s death]

Voyaging to every port to dicker and adventure, [Nephi’s transoceanic journey!]

Hurrying with the modern crowd as eager and fickle as any,

Hot toward one I hate, ready in my madness to knife him, [clearly the conflict of Nephi versus Laman and Lemuel]

Solitary at midnight in my back yard, my thoughts gone from me a long while, [Nephi’s meditations and prayer]

Walking the old hills of Judaea with the beautiful gentle God by my side, [After departing from Judea, it is in his divine vision that Nephi has a divine being as a guide at his side–a blatant rip-off of Whitman!]

Speeding through space, speeding through heaven and the stars,

Speeding amid the seven satellites and the broad ring, and the

diameter of eighty thousand miles,

Speeding with tail’d meteors, throwing fire-balls like the rest,

Carrying the crescent child that carries its own full mother in its belly, [reference to the miraculous birth of a divine child]

Storming, enjoying, planning, loving, cautioning,

Backing and filling, appearing and disappearing, [the cycles of the Nephites]

I tread day and night such roads. [the journey at night, as in Lehi’s dream]

I visit the orchards of spheres and look at the product, [the fruit of the sacred tree]

And look at quintillions ripen’d and look at quintillions green.

I fly those flights of a fluid and swallowing soul, [as in Nephi being carried by the Spirit into the high mountains, 2 Nephi 4:25]

My course runs below the soundings of plummets.

I help myself to material and immaterial, [theological, metaphysical content involving spirit and matter is alluded to here, a possible source for, say 2 Nephi 2]

No guard can shut me off, no law prevent me. [yes, this reference to law confirms the link to 2 Nephi 2]

I anchor my ship for a little while only, [Nephi’s ship, of course]

My messengers continually cruise away or bring their returns to me.

I go hunting polar furs and the seal, leaping chasms [chasms –- or CHIASMS??] with a

pike-pointed staff, clinging to topples of brittle and blue. [the staff = a rod!, and polar furs is a reference to the land northward, or course]

I ascend to the foretruck,

I take my place late at night in the crow’s-nest, [the oceanic voyage again!]

We sail the arctic sea, it is plenty light enough, …

We are approaching some great battle-field in which we are soon to

be engaged, [Whitman even envisioned the great battles of the Book of Mormon!]

We pass the colossal outposts of the encampment, we pass with still

feet and caution,

Or we are entering by the suburbs some vast and ruin’d city, [the land of Desolation! Or the fallen Nephite civilization]

The blocks and fallen architecture more than all the living cities

of the globe. [the fall of a great civilization is foreshadowed, bringing us to the tragic end of the Book of Mormon][4]

While Grunder must scour numerous volumes to concoct a few weak parallels for a few pages of the Book of Mormon (an 1838 source for the idea of “fruit” in New York, and multiple articles, brochures, and books to describe scattered elements of the dream), we find a much richer source in Walt Whitman. In just three pages of the Leaves of Grass, we find parallels to the entire Book of Mormon story, not just Lehi’s dream with the tree of life, the fruit, the stream flowing from its roots, the gulf of misery and the drunken mocking of those in the great and spacious building, and the divine guide at Lehi’s and Nephi’s side, but we also find the very beginning of the Book of Mormon with a journey out of Judea, the crossing of the ocean by ship to build settlements in the New World, the hatred between Nephi and his brothers that will lead to murderous attempts, the divine birth of a future Child, premonitions of war, and a great battle resulting in the destruction of vast cities. And as icing on our great and spacious cake, we even find the origin for the name Joseph would give to those making the “moccasin prints” and fighting the great battles against the Nephites: Lamanite, obviously derived from “Lemonade” which is presented immediately after “moccasin prints.” Grunder’s scattered parallels pale in comparison.

If the Book of Mormon were derived from modern sources, we must expect the parallels to be more informative, more instructive of the plagiarism technique, and far more interesting that the many we find in The Leaves of Grass. Not because the Leaves of Grass is the best candidate for actual Book of Mormon plagiarism, but because it is an impossible candidate, showing what can be found by chance coupled with a touch of creativity. The Leaves of Grass, published in 1855, cannot possibly have influenced Joseph Smith, and it is highly unlikely that Joseph influenced Whitman. The parallels are specious and in fact, simply a joke at best. But they illustrate the level of parallels that can occur by chance, especially using a rich and varied source like Whitman’s writings. These are parallels, of course, that don’t bring new meaning out of the text, that don’t explain anything interesting about the origins and meaning of the Book of Mormon, and that don’t lead to fruitful new avenues of research. They are random curiosities, the kind that randomness gives us everywhere we look. But to gain a deeper understanding the Book of Mormon, there is much to be gleaned by looking in the right place.

By the way, the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass adds even more interest with its added “Song of the Open Road,”[5] where one finds the words “great” and “spacious” and “buildings” in that order, though not immediately collocated. One also reads of currents, souls and their journey, philosophies and religions, and many other concepts relevant to the Book of Mormon, but it would be overkill to point out the many more (impossible) connections found there.

Endnotes

1. Jeff Lindsay, “Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass?,” JeffLindsay.com, http://www.jefflindsay.com/bomsource.shtml, accessed Aug. 1, 2016.

2. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Brooklyn, NY: Walt Whitman, 1855), available at Archive.org, https://archive.org/stream/LeavesOfGrass1855Edition/whitman_walt_leaves_of_grass_1855_ed#page/n39/.

3. Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 39–40.

4. Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 40–41.

5. Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road,” Leaves of Grass, 1867 edition, WhitmanArchive.org; http://www.whitmanarchive.org/published/LG/1867/poems/93.