Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Whittier, "Last Walk in Autumn" & Geography

--Phil Hubbard's entry on "space/place" explains cultural geography's distinction with those terms. Using those distinctions, try to explain what is "place" and what is "space" in Whittier's poem?

--Don Mitchell's entry on "landscape" explains some of the ways cultural geographers use the term landscape as a constructed or made space, one that reveals what a culture values. What specific form does the landscape take in Whittier's poem? What does it reflect about his or his culture's sense of beauty or value?


  1. I am commenting on Phil Hubbard's "space/place" entry in relation to Whittier's poem. In reading through Hubbard's entry, drawing a distinction between what is "place" and what is "space" proves to be very difficult at times. As he mentions, we should be wary of making any simple definition of either, and perhaps ask what they do as opposed to what they are.

    Nevertheless, in trying to figure out his thoughts, I break it down to life experience and more simple thoughts about space and place. My interpretation, "place" is a city (Paris in this instance), an attraction, something we look for, look at. Something we try to relive.
    Hubbard mentions, "place is often equated with security and enclosure, whereas space is associated with freedom and mobility."

    From this, I interpret space as time, patience. In mentioning patience, that brings me to the poem.
    "Space," in Whittier's poem, is what the
    "place" brings to a person (I'll explain, that confuses me). Two passages,

    "What greetings smile, what farewells wave,
    What loved ones enter and depart!
    The good, the beautiful, the brave,
    The Heaven-lent treasures of the heart!"

    "I have not seen, I may not see,
    My hopes for man take form in fact,
    But God will give the victory
    In due time; in that faith I act."

    "Space" is the "What loved ones enter and depart" as well as the "In due time." It's time, it's believing happiness exist and waiting for it.

    The "place" in the poem is the seasons. Fall and Summer (the two seasons he seems to enjoy), as well as Winter and Spring

    "To bear the winter's lingering chills,
    The mocking spring's perpetual loss.
    I dream of lands where summer smiles,
    And soft winds blow from spicy isles,
    But scarce would Ceylon's breath of flowers be sweet,
    Could I not feel thy soil, New England, at my feet!"

    "Place" is spring's loss, winter's chills, summer smiles. "Space" is the time spent waiting, dreaming of the summer smiles, sitting inside watching winter through the frosty pane.

  2. I'm still processing your comments Patrick and might come back to them tomorrow, but I wanted to add some questions because I think my initial ones might be overly abstract.

    Even just thinking about the poem, without dealing that much with space/place or landscape, why does Whittier write about New England at what many might see as its bleakest moment? What is there to celebrate about New England when it is conventionally unlovely? What virtues of New England's people are reflected or produced by its late autumn landscape?

  3. In Hubbard's entry, one of the most understandable definitions of place and space (to me) is offered by Yi-Fu Tuan. Space, to Tuan, has a lack of idealization, emotion or meaning to people while place is, "...created and maintained through the 'fields of care' that result from people's emotional attachment" (42). Furthermore, in order to develop a 'sense of place' people must be greatly attached to it. On the other hand, a more literal definition could be that spaces are defined by "freedom and mobility" while places are "equated with security and enclosure" (43). It seems like there are many "definitions", and yet the idea is still very arbitrary.

    Michell's idea of landscape seems to be very similar to the ideas of place mentioned above. It is man regulated or owned, as opposed to space which is vast and free of cultural significance. Although these ideas were more consistent and defined, I couldn't fully grasp the nature of landscape. It seemed to be mostly a term associated with the idea of capitalism, and all I could picture was Mount Rushmore where they charge for parking so you can see the President's faces.

    In Whittier's poem "The Last Walk in Autumn" I felt that the first five stanzas became the space for which he could begin to define place, or the meaning of which people have brought to it. The imagery of birds following the southern sun, or more broadly the changing of the seasons portrays "mobility." It's a space at this point that is not regulated by man.

    Further into the poem however Whittier begins to fill the space with images of villages. From stanzas twenty-two to twenty-four he invokes the place of New England through with Sabbath bells and Thanksgiving in the sweet little homes in the woods. Bringing back the idea of the four seasons, he suggests that the cold of winter brings out the best of the culture. Though Whittier compares New England to grander places like Milan, Versailles, or Windsor earlier in the poem, the New England culture seems brighter and more beautiful because of the darkness it has to endure. The seasons symbiotically define the culture and the culture defines the space into a place.

  4. In response to what Caitlin said, there are many definitions because there is no correct answer. A postmodernist view would be that there can not be one specific answer, or definition of space and place because it has multiple possibilities. It can be defined differently by each person based on his or her individual experience. Both directions of thinking, humanistic and materialist, discuss the importance that people/society play on space/place. The definitions can be seen as arbitrary, because they are, there is no right or wrong answer. As said, space and place can be seen as a blank canvas (42). A blank canvas means there is nothing there, so the possibilities of definitions are endless.

    The definition of landscape is fairly open as well. It seems to be dependent on the viewer. Mitchell says that technically the term refers to the look or style of the land, but meaning comes from the social and cultural significance of the land (49). If the meaning of landscape comes from the social importance of it, then there is no concrete meaning.

    It is nice that these terms are open for interpretation, but it is difficult to explain them. These pieces seemed to confuse me even more. I guess the meaning of them can be that there is no real meaning of the words place and space. It is held in the eyes of the beholder.

    The poem, "The Last Walk in Autumn" also allows for interpretation. The going of one thing and the coming of another is a large focus. But, the change only has meaning to those that give it meaning. The change of space/place can only be defined by those experiencing it, because without their experiences, the change means nothing.

    I am very interested to discuss this topic in class, because right now I am very lost. I feel as though it is impossible to define the terms, which is frustrating. It will be nice to hear what others understood from the readings. As I understand, each person defines his or her own spaces and places.

  5. I read the first four stanzas of Whittier's poem as a lovely depiction of a barren fall landscape. Mitchell first describes the word landscape as signifying "the specific arrangement or pattern of the things on the land" such as meadows, trees, etc. From the "sea's long level dim with rain" to the "azure-studded juniper", we get a feel for the physical area in which he is walking.

    As Whittier enters the fifth stanza, the phrase "I passed this way a year ago" began to create a strong sense of place, largely due to the emotional attachment I began to see from the author. Hubbard came to the conclusion that many see place as a "lived experience" and determined that only when a bond between the people and the place is deep-rooted, can a sense of place develop. As Whittier reminisces of "watching the fallen leaves with the soft wind at play," I could feel his admiration for the land, despite its current, more somber conditions.

    I think it is Whittier's attachment to the landscape that allows him to feel fondness towards it, despite the unfavorable change in conditions. He describes "brooks and birds, furits and flowers, green woods and moonlit snows," all of which are clearly not what he sees around them, however they "have in its round been ours." Hubbard explained that some see "space" as socially produced and consumed, and this made think that the love we feel for the places that are special to us may be the result of an idea that was culturally and socially created: that we must have pride in our surroundings and home. Whittier writs, "but he who sees his native b rooks Laugh in the sun, has seen them all," which is a perfect example of how deeply rooted his connection to his place is.

    Whittier even admits that he sometimes longs for worldly travles, however he knows "homesick tears would fill the eyes." Whittier loves New England, despite any harsh winter conditions he soon will face, because it is home.

  6. Is space and place even able to be defined? I read the different definitions and am still confused. Perhaps this is why people still use the terms interchangeably?
    I think that this is right, space is an area or concept that people aren't attached to and that place is an area that people can become attached to such as the villages in Whittier's poem and that the space is a concept such as Autumn?
    I find this so confusing.


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