I Sing the Trousers Electric

By: Matthew Battles
October 26, 2009

A new Levi’s advertisement uses a wax-cylinder recording of what is believed to be Walt Whitman reciting his own poem.


Of course, it’s by no means Whitman’s first trousers ad —

O soul in general! Loafe! Proceed through
space with a hole in your trousers!
O tattered flag of freedom! not national free-
dom, nor any of that sort of infernal non-
sense, but individual freedom, freedom to
do just as you d — n please!



Haw-Haw, Spectacles

What do you think?

  1. Please tell me that ad is not some kind of weird Civil War reenactment! I mean there’s blacks and whites, and fireworked explosions, and Whitman waxing poetic . . . ! Farbs.

  2. Still more work to be done on Whitman’s trousers, from Professor Ed Folsom at http://www.uiowa.edu/~wwqr/folsom-census.html:

    “Genoways has recently discovered some intriguing variations in the frontispiece engraving, suggesting that Whitman may have worked with the engraver to enhance the bulge of the crotch in the figure, thus giving visual support for Whitman’s introduction of his name halfway through “I celebrate myself”: “I […] make short account of neuters and geldings, and favor men and women fully equipped, / And beat the gong of revolt, and stop with fugitives and them that plot and conspire. / Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, / Disorderly fleshy and sensual . . . . eating drinking and breeding” (29). The bulging-crotch version of the engraving appears in all of the copies in the first binding, but many of the copies in the second binding contain the earlier flat-crotch image, again demonstrating that Whitman always saw his books as works in progress; he was economical enough not to throw out the things already printed, but he was never bound to what he thought could be made more effective: he just made the changes and left the old copies behind him, like a trail of evolutionary debris, a record of the evolution of Leaves of Grass.”

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