"winders of the circuit of circuits"

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sun Dec 28 14:47:37 UTC 2008

Quoting Geoffrey Nunberg <nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU>:

> A poet I know who has been annotating Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"
> asked me if I could help explicate the meaning of the phrase "winders
> of the circuit of circuits" in section 41 of the poem:
> I do not despise you priests, all time, the world over,
> My faith is the greatest of faiths and the least of faiths,
> Enclosing worship ancient and modern and all between ancient and modern,
> Believing I shall come again upon the earth after five thousand years,
> Waiting responses from oracles, honoring the gods, saluting the sun...
> Accepting the Gospels, accepting him that was crucified, knowing
>     assuredly that he is divine,
> To the mass kneeling or the puritan's prayer rising, or sitting
>     patiently in a pew,
> Ranting and frothing in my insane crisis, or waiting dead-like till
>     my spirit arouses me,
> Looking forth on pavement and land, or outside of pavement and land,
> Belonging to the winders of the circuit of circuits.
> One of that centripetal and centrifugal gang I turn and talk like
>     man leaving charges before a journey.
> I'm at a bit of a loss here -- It isn't clear what a winder of
> circuits/circuit winder is supposed to be. (As best I can tell, the
> Whitman literature doesn't have anything to say about this line.) If
> it's a fixed collocation, it doesn't occur a whole lot in 19th c.
> writing. Current citations for "wind a circuit" etc. seem to be
> chiefly electrical, but that isn't likely to have been what Whitman
> was getting at. It might simply mean "following a circuit (i.e., a
> regular route among a round of places in succession), where 'wind' has
> the sense of the related verb 'wend' ; cf the lines from the 1809
> narrative poem "Gilbert," available on Google Books:
> "So when day breaks Til tempt my fate no more,
>  But wind the circuit which I've wound before."
> In which case (particularly given the immediate context) this could
> also be an allusion to an itinerant clergyman, I suppose. Anyway,
> beyond that I'm stumped -- does anybody have any ideas on this one?
> Geoff Nunberg

Perhaps compare his use of these words elsewhere, e.g. (via GooglBooks):

Crossing the Alleghanies (1848)
to follow the course of an interminable brook, winding with its windings, and
twisting with its twists...
and twisting with its twists, in a, to me, singular fashion. But even with
so many circuits, the road had to be cut through very many bad places;

Democratic Vistas
At best, we can only offer suggestions, comparisons, circuits. It must
still be
reiterated, as, for the purpose of these memoranda, the deep lesson of...

Song of Myself
My sun has his sun, and round him obediently wheels ; He joins, with his
partners, a group of superior circuit ; And greater sets follow, making specks
of ...

(and others)

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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