F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp

Published On


Page Range

pp. 111–222


  • English

Print Length

111 pages

3. Whitman’s Line

“Found” in the KJB?

  • F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp (author)
The question of the origin of Whitman’s signature long line remains shrouded in mystery. The renewed attention paid to the early notebooks and poetry manuscripts has enabled scholars to see much more clearly the emergence of that line and to have a better idea of its rough chronology. But what of this line’s inspiration? Its animating impulse? Where does it come from? And why? The evidence at hand does not permit conclusive answers to these and related questions. Still, in this chapter, the possibility that the KJB played a role in shaping Whitman’s ideas about his emerging line is probed. In particular, the central argument if the chapter builds on an insight of George Saintsbury who, in a review of the 1871(-72) edition of Leaves, calls attention to the likeness of Whitman’s line to “the verse divisions of the English Bible, especially in the poetical books.” A number of aspects of Whitman’s mature line (e.g., its variability, range of lengths, typical shapes and character, and content) become more clearly comparable to the Bible when thought through in light of Saintsbury’s appreciation of the significance of the actual “verse divisions of the English Bible.” Along the way the chronological development of Whitman’s line is sketched, emphasizing the poet’s break with meter as key to opening the possibility for a longer line. Other possible means by which knowledge about the Bible beyond direct readerly encounters may have been mediated to Whitman (such as the poetry of James Macpherson and Martin Farquhar Tupper) are also considered.


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.