To a Common Prostitute


Whitman, Walt




From his collection, Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, Whitman, "liberal and lusty as Nature," declares his solidarity with the prostitute of the title. He says that since nature does not exclude her, neither will he. Nevertheless, he also charges her to "make preparation to be worthy to meet me" and to be "patient and perfect till I come." The poem asks us to consider how we ourselves exclude, avoid, and judge others.

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Leaves of Grass (The Complete 1891-1892 Edition)


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Connection and RelationshipExclusion and BelongingGender and SexualityLove and Compassion

Big Questions

What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?Why is connection important? What does it enable? What does it impede?How do we respond to strangers?What does it mean to be a stranger or an outsider? What does it feel like?Who gets left out and why?How does gender affect our relations to others? How does sexuality affect our relations to others?How do we define love? How do we show love?What prevents us from being compassionate?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What does Whitman mean when he says he is “liberal and lusty as Nature”?
  2. Why does Whitman determine to include and speak of the prostitute?
  3. How must she prepare to meet Whitman? What does it mean to be patient and perfect?
  4. In what ways is Whitman including the prostitute? In what ways is he excluding her?
  5. How is Whitman able to connect with the prostitute? What keeps them separated?
  6. What does it mean to love humanity or show compassion for all?
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