"winders of the circuit of circuits"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Dec 28 14:35:36 UTC 2008

Emerging from the 18th century, I wonder whether it alludes to the
idea (emerging during the Enlightenment, I think) that God set the
universe in motion according to certain rules (that notion would
explain discovery of the laws of science), and then let it run like
clockwork.  (He then did not intervene directly in the minor matters
of the world -- no more "divine providence" for every small distress
or success -- but only in significant cases.)  The "circuits" might
refer to the motions of the planets and stars, and the "circuit of
circuits" to the universe as a whole.  I leave the "winders" to the

But that's what poetry's all about, isn't it?  Different strokes for
different folks.


At 12/28/2008 02:02 AM, Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:
>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
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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