"winders of the circuit of circuits"

Alison Murie sagehen7470 at ATT.NET
Mon Dec 29 00:10:58 UTC 2008

On Dec 28, 2008, at 2:02 AM, Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Geoffrey Nunberg <nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU>
> Subject:      "winders of the circuit of circuits"
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> 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
This last seems plausible, given that itinerant clergymen were often
called "circuit riders."
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