F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp

Published On


Page Range

pp. 63–110


  • English

Print Length

47 pages

2. The Bible in Whitman

Quotation, Allusion, Echo

  • F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp (author)
The chapter takes up the topic of biblical quotations, allusions, and echoes in Whitman’s writings, albeit with a very specific end in view. G. W. Allen pioneered this line of research in his “Biblical Echoes,” which remains the single largest published collection of biblical quotations, allusions and echoes in Whitman. This sampling alone establishes Whitman’s knowledge and use of the Bible, and the direct quotations from the Bible make clear Whitman’s use of the KJB translation in particular. Allen also ably emphasizes the “elusive” nature of Whitman’s allusive practice in Leaves as it pertains to the Bible. My own point of departure is the (modest amount of) research carried out on this topic since Allen’s foundational study. I begin by elaborating a number of general observations that entail from these more recent studies, not a few of which contrast with emphases placed by Allen (e.g., the prominence of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in Whitman’s collages from the Bible). The main part of the chapter focuses on the important period from 1850-55. A survey of Whitman’s writings (both poetry and prose) from this period reveals a plethora of biblical language, imagery, themes, characters, and imitations of all sorts, and this allusive practice turns out to be a very tangible way of tracking one dimension of Whitman’s evolving poetic theory—“no quotations.” At the time of the three free-verse poems from the spring and summer of 1850, Whitman could still freely embed quotations from the Bible in his poems. But by the time of the early notebooks and poetry manuscripts, and then in the 1855 Leaves, Whitman’s new poetics is firmly in place: no more direct quotations, a concerted trimming away of some biblical trappings, and a tendency to work-over allusions to the point that they become, as B. L. Bergquist says, “more ‘elusive,’ more hidden.” The survey includes close scrutiny of Whitman’s prose writings (mostly journalistic in nature) from 1850-53 and the early pre-Leaves notebooks and unpublished poetry manuscripts.


F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp

James Lenox Librarian and Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary

F. W. “Chip” Dobbs-Allsopp is the James Lenox Librarian and professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. He holds a B.A. from Furman University (1984), an M.Div. from the Seminary (1987), and a Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University (1992). He joined the faculty of the Seminary in 1999 after spending five years teaching at Yale University (1994-99). He loves sailing and poetry and has been known to enjoy a glass of wine or a wee dram of whiskey. His research interests include the historical, philological, and literary study of biblical and ancient Near Eastern literature (with special focus on poetry and Northwest Semitic inscriptions). Dobbs-Allsopp’s most recent book is On Biblical Poetry (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). Current projects include a monograph-length study of the poetry of Walt Whitman, provisionally entitled, Divine Style: Walt Whitman and the King James Bible., a critical commentary on the book of Lamentations in the Hermeneia series (co-authored with J. Blake Couey), and The Digital Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri: An Image-Based Electronic Edition & Archive.