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About Leaves of Grass Abraham Lincoln read it with approval, but Emily Dickinson described its bold language and themes as "disgraceful. About Leaves of Grass One of the great innovative figures in American letters, Walt Whitman created a daringly new kind of poetry that became a major force in world literature. Also in Vintage Classics. Also in Modern Library Classics. Also by Walt Whitman. Product Details. Inspired by Your Browsing History. Related Articles. Looking for More Great Reads? Download Hi Res. LitFlash The eBooks you want at the lowest prices. Read it Forward Read it first.

You're using an out-of-date version of Internet Explorer. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Guillaume Goyetche. Green and New Zealand collector W. I have clearly stated the contribution by others to jointly-authored works that I have included in my thesis.

I have clearly stated the contribution of others to my thesis as a whole, including statistical assistance, survey design, data analysis, significant technical procedures, professional editorial advice, and any other original research work used or reported in my thesis. The content of my thesis is the result of work I have carried out since the commencement of my research higher degree candidature and does not include a substantial part of work that has been submitted to qualify for the award of any other degree or diploma in any university or other tertiary institution. I have clearly stated which parts of my thesis, if any, have been submitted to qualify for another award.

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I acknowledge that an electronic copy of my thesis must be lodged with the University Library and, subject to the General Award Rules of The University of Queensland, immediately made available for research and study in accordance with the Copyright Act I acknowledge that copyright of all material contained in my thesis resides with the copyright holder s of that material.

Where appropriate I have obtained copyright permission from the copyright holder to reproduce material in this thesis. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude towards Anthony Tedeschi and the Heritage staff at the Dunedin Public Library for their assistance during my visit in September- October Jones successfully demonstrates that American writing was circulating across Australia at the time and that writers such as Whitman and Emerson had a significant impact on some of their Australian counterparts.

Therefore, the book consists of short overviews and biographical notes, and while it deals with a number of authors, it does not discuss them in great detail. Jones appeared confident that others would build on the work he began x. Rather surprisingly, the kind of study Jones imagined is yet to be published. Matthiessen, Leo Marx and R. Yet despite its international focus, it is somewhat surprising that this comprehensive anthology does not include an entry on Australia.

This omission is even more noteworthy given the fact that A. One of the main reasons to link Whitman to Australia is that it provides an opportunity to compare how writers and critics in Australia and the United States have dealt with a shared colonial heritage in their attempts to define their respective national cultures from the late nineteenth century onwards. This, in turn, enables us to reconsider these poets and critics from perspectives outside the national. Since the publication of Radical Cousins, there has been very little written on Whitman and Australia.

LEAVES OF GRASS

While this particular framework is far from obsolete, I believe that a slightly different approach will assist in producing better outcomes. Indeed, the exclusive focus on influence has sometimes prevented scholars from investigating fruitful connections between writers and their works. I contend that Charles Harpur was in many respects a Whitman-like figure. While Whitman asserted that American poetry should ignore all artistic precedents, Harpur attempted to adapt the British tradition to the Australian scene. Nevertheless, the attempt to redefine the Australian tradition in less exclusive terms, initiated by critics such as G.

Consequently, Harpur is nowadays increasingly presented as a foundational figure in the Australian canon. A search of newspaper archives reveals that Whitman was widely discussed, quoted, imitated and parodied in the period. Yet, his influence in literary and intellectual circles was largely confined to a small group of isolated enthusiasts.

Finally, it should be noted that while this thesis is primarily focused on connections between Whitman and Australian writers, it includes New Zealand Whitmanite W. Before the major impact of modernism in Australia, Whitman represented the most significant challenge to orthodox beliefs about poetic form and decorum. Since the s, however, the move away from strictly nationalist perspectives in Australian criticism has allowed Harpur to be given a role as a founding figure of an Australian poetic tradition.

The perception of Whitman in the American academy has also considerably changed. Harpur was determined to teach. The poet as teacher is fighting the poet as poet and the latter loses. This is an inventive use of the Gothic tradition and the passage evokes both the wild, eroded coastline and the crumbling ruins of Gothic landscapes. Whitman compressed the poem, whereas Harpur invariably lengthened any poem he revised, and his additions are usually explanations and elaborations.

Perhaps, the first significant similarity between Whitman and Harpur is their unwavering self-confidence and sense of mission. He was absolutely convinced that he would eventually receive the recognition he deserved. While Harpur has not become the kind of literary and cultural icon Whitman is in America, his reputation has certainly risen in recent times and he is increasingly recognized as a precursor of an Australian poetic tradition.

The similarities do not stop there. Both Whitman and Harpur belonged to the lower classes of their respective societies. Indeed, they both believed that the poet came from the people. And thereby clothe as with a robe of flame! Be then the Bard of thy Country! O rather, Should such be thy choice than a monarchy wide! I gazed, mute with love, on her soul-moulded charms: ……………………………………………………….

She rushed to my heart, and dissolved in my arms! I feel like a Monarch of song in the Land! Both poet and country benefit from the union. As noted above, Harpur presented himself as the first Australian poet, despite the fact that other Australians had written and published poetry before him. We do not, with sufficient plainness, or sufficient profoundness, address ourselves to life, nor dare we chaunt our own time and social circumstance Consequently, by presenting themselves as the national poet, Whitman and Harpur also implied that their works were original in the strongest sense of the term.

However, the two poets developed contrasting understandings of the concept of originality. Although he certainly wanted to be more than a second-hand Milton or Wordsworth, Harpur still considered himself as an heir to the British tradition. In other words, he believed that his mission as a poet was to adapt this tradition to the Australian scene. In this world how much Has thy surpassing love made rich for me, Of what was once unprized. Responsive to his call,—with quivering peals, And long halloos, and screams, and echoes loud Redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild Of jocund din!

However, it does not mean that the storm does not have a significant impact on the boy and that he does not experience his own version of the sublime: Strange darings seize me, witnessing this strife Of Nature; while, as heedless of my life, I stand exposed. And does some destined charm Hold me secure from elemental harm, That in the mighty riot I may find How through all being works the light of Mind? Spirit transmuting into forms of thought What but for its cognition were as nought! As early as , in American Renaissance, F. And because the objects so efficiently described by him were aboriginal and novel—because the Australian flora is utterly unlike that of any other country in the world, there is consequently a feature in his work that gives it a distinct character; and, in fact, separates it from all the poetry of its kind written in the same language.

This was a singer whose genius was ripened, so to speak, by the sun and winds of outside wildernesses; mountains were his sponsors; and from them he received his lyrical education. And because this music The typical Australian landscape did not exhibit the conventional features of natural beauty. It was to be found in the wilderness, it was vaster, rougher and untamed and the national poet had to exhibit such qualities. Indeed, the conception of poetry as lawless music or styled inharmonious instantly recalls the Whitmanian free verse.

After all, the very idea behind free verse is that the poet must do away with artistic conventions to be closer to his subject matter.


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Here is a writer of prose whose magnificent passages and startling asseverations stamp themselves upon the memory with an extraordinary force, presenting us with a sort of wild recitative controlled by no known technical law, and set down without regard to metre, rhythm, or anything else that we have been accustomed to associate with our notions of verse, and asking us to accept it as the first draft of the representative poetry of American Democracy!

Kendall was neither the first nor the last to argue that Whitman was a polarising figure. There are no mere echoes in them; no parrotry of any sort. The thought in flowing out seems for the most part to hollow a mould for itself. He has evidently no taste for the singularities which are often sought in a new poet as certificates of his originality, or at all events of his independence from predecessors. The reader will detect none of these reverberations of the pre-eminent poetry of the age to be found in the maiden publications of even the most promising writers.

Selected Criticism

During the colonial period, the idea of an independent Australia appealed to some prominent figures in politics and letters, and men such as J. Lang, Deniehy and Harpur drew on American ideas to put their case forward. As this quotation makes clear, the idea of self- reliance strongly appealed to Harpur. Morals with such mean—safe things and they see No worth in worship but—conformity. Yet are they seldom felons: too discreet For theft or robbery—they simply cheat; …………………………………………. Believing Rascal might be written Man. Nay, I would—I will Be as the Eagles through the heavens that move Boundlessly free, though separate.

Why should I pray? Why should I venerate and be ceremonious? Its first principles lie fundamentally in the moral elements of my being, ready to flower forth and bear their proper fruit. Harpur qtd. For Whitman, individual freedom should be almost completely unrestricted.

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However, there actually is a limit to individual freedom according to Whitman. In short, for both Whitman and Harpur, the ideas of equality and freedom go hand in hand, one cannot exist without the other. In Two Treatises of Government, John Locke argues that the degree of freedom men enjoy in the state of nature is desirable. The only problem with freedom as it is in the state of nature, according to Locke, is that if everyone is allowed to do everything their constitutions allow them to, sooner or later conflicts will arise and without an impartial institution to settle those conflicts, men will be a threat to each other and their freedoms.

Therefore, it is the role of government to be the arbiter. In all political and commercial relations with other governments, it should be simply the instrument, and not the director and disposer of the national will of the governed; the medium of the national declaration, not the declarer of war; the national party to the ratification of treaties, not their ratifier. All final powers in these respects … should reside essentially in the people through their representatives.

And there should be no other legislator than these representatives of the people—no feudal obstructionists, no born fools using them to tamper with the national destinies. Otherwise all power could not fundamentally reside with the people, and emanate thence. The republicans did not originally demand manhood suffrage because they did not want to appear too radical. The British government accepted this proposal because the current requirements meant that rich ex-convicts had the vote and the decent free- working man who had just arrived did not.

The qualification had to be adjusted to limit convict influence. After the gold rushes, inflation made the property qualification obsolete and more and more men qualified for the vote. In , the Australian colonies were granted self- government. So when Harpur writes about the people in the quotation above, he means every white male who has reached the voting age.

Thus the republican movement in Australia did not attempt to extend political rights to women or non-whites. By the time the first edition of Leaves of Grass was published , white American males could vote and in the Fifteenth Amendment to the US constitution gave African American males the right to vote.

The belief of both writers in democracy, republicanism and individual freedom depended in turn, on their faith in the potential of their respective peoples. Both poets also presented their respective lands as the perfect place to build a society which would embody their democratic ideals. Harpur However, Harpur surprisingly declared that the establishment of an Australian republic was not a desirable outcome in the foreseeable future because he feared that power would fall into the wrong hands: Though utterly republican in my politics, speculatively, I yet believe that it will be best for Australia to continue during the present century at the very least as a part of the British Empire.

After Australia was granted self- government in , the republican cause lost even more traction. He was the first to acknowledge that American democracy was not as great as it should be. In other words, according to Whitman, democracy itself was the system of education Harpur was calling for. Whitman and Harpur thus both inscribe themselves into the history of their nations as the founding national poet, a foundational role legitimated by and legitimizing their faith in democracy and the potential of their peoples. The question that then arises is how subsequent readers, critics and literary historians have responded to these claims and hence the role that each poet has been given in the formation of a national literary and poetic tradition.

In short, James criticizes Whitman for putting egotistical self- expression before artistic craft. How did such a radical reversal of critical fortune come about? The emergence of the United States as the dominant world power following World War II was accompanied by a push from the American academy to establish a distinctive national culture.

In order for American literature to be taken seriously, the literary merits of American texts needed to be ascertained through the application of a rigorous method and that is exactly what the New Criticism offered. It aimed to articulate a rational approach to literature by relying on objective means to determine aesthetic value Ray New Critics saw literary texts as autotelic and adopted a formalist approach, arguing that there was or should be a natural relationship between form and content and that the harmony between the two was particularly evident in canonical literary texts MacPhail But if the New Criticism legitimized American literature, how exactly did it help Whitman?

The most influential New Critical work in American literature is without doubt F. The book defined for generations what would subsequently be viewed as the traditional American canon and gave its name to one of the most significant periods in American literary history. In other words, like the New Critics, Whitman argued that language, used in a certain way, was capable of creating a more concrete form of experience.

Here, Matthiessen seems to acknowledge the artistic merits of the controversial Whitmanian catalogues, which are often used in the descriptions of everyday activity he mentions. In short, Matthiessen provided a platform for others to build on. The case for Whitman as the archetypal American was most famously put forward by R.

Lewis in The American Adam According to Lewis, Whitman shifts the focus to the future by negating the past and pretending that was year zero. The metaphor is made even more powerful by the fact that as the American Adam, Whitman is in a position to simultaneously create himself and the nation. Lewis emphatically asserted that when Whitman claimed to be the original American, he was to be taken at face value. In short, Lewis institutionalized the identification between America, the speaker of Leaves of Grass and the historical Whitman, an identification that would endure for generations.

Both were native-born and both made attempts to come to grips with the Australian environment, but neither of them was very successful. When they wrote of the local scene they tended to see it through the borrowed spectacles of English literary conventions. Instead of glorying in its dry distances, as did the bush-workers … these early verse writers felt called upon to depict it as the Ultimate Thule of horrid desolation … it was only rarely that they tried to depict the inland plains.

Naturally enough, they wrote mainly about the mountain and coastal country which they knew. But the result was a certain anglicizing of even these parts of the Australian landscape. Nationalist critics claimed that it was during this particular decade that a distinctly Australian identity derived from the bush and associated with an ethos of egalitarian mateship was articulated. These values were said to be embodied not by so- called high literature but by more popular art forms such as the bush ballads written by Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson incidentally, Whitman also believed that the national culture had its roots in the popular.

On the contrary, poets like Harpur were representative of the colonial period. While H. An Outline Contrary to Ward, Green argued that Harpur did manage to come to grips with his environment. In , Green opened his Outline of Australian Literature by arguing that: Australian literature is a branch of English literature, and however great it may become and whatever characteristics it may develop, it will remain a branch. Not only must a proper understanding of it involve an understanding of its origins and relationships, but, especially in regards to its more important writers, the very standard of judgment will be derived from a study of [English] literature For a thorough understanding of [Australian literature] has to be treated individually as well as in [its] relationships with [English] literature as a whole.

A work that came to grips with the Australian landscape and reality might be critical to the development of Australian literature but seen in the context of the entire English tradition, that same work might be perceived as having little value. By the same logic, a great Australian poet was not necessarily a great poet. For Green, Harpur was important because he tried to come to terms somewhat successfully with his environment, even if he was not an outstanding poet.

From the s onwards, Australian literary criticism was professionalized as it moved into the university and away from nationalism. The critics forget how small the scene is. Hope claimed that what Australia needed was masterpieces, works that could compare with texts from other literary traditions, because masterpieces not local writing made a tradition: There is something in a masterpiece—native, indigenous and speaking the untranslatable language of a specific civilisation—by which the writers of that country can measure themselves and feel the force of their own talents in a way which they can rarely do with the masterpieces of other lands.

It is for this reason that Australia must wait for the final requirement in standards on which a fully formed literary tradition is based. Interestingly, Hope uses American literature as an example of what Australian literature should aim for. In the early nineteenth century writers of a different calibre began to appear. Thoreau, Melville, Whitman, Poe, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Lowell, Whittier and Emerson form a list of names of international reputation, whose works were read, discussed, admired, or abused by the whole English-speaking world in the nineteenth century.

At least five of them are still important influences on contemporary literature. Two of them, Poe and Whitman, have affected the whole course of the European poetic tradition. One of them, Herman Melville, after a long period of neglect, has begun to take his place as one of the writers of outstanding genius. After this, American literature was launched with its own tradition, which has continued to produce writers who easily take a prominent and important place in the field of European letters. It is interesting to notice that all the writers just mentioned were born in the first twenty years of the nineteenth century.

The change from colonialism to an independent and autonomous tradition was sudden, brilliant and permanent. James Normington-Rawling published a biography of Harpur in A year later, Judith Wright published a monograph on Harpur and in she devoted the first chapter of her Preoccupations in Australian Poetry to his work. The latter aspect has been traditionally associated with the egalitarian ethos which characterized the works of Lawson and Furphy in the s.

However, as Wright points out, the origins of the radical tradition can be traced all the way back to Harpur xii. Here, Wright sets the ground for a reassessment of Harpur which presents him as the head of a national but not nationalist literary and poetic tradition.

With the expansion of the academic study of Australian literature, literary scholarship and critical approaches similar to the focus on form and language promoted by the New Criticism were used to re-examine the Australian poetic tradition, especially colonial poetry. The work of G. A Wilkes was particularly influential, from the s through to his later work, The Stockyard and the Croquet Lawn , in which he suggests that Australian literary history must be re-imagined: The insistence on deriving an Australian identity from the outback has produced one model of the nineteenth century, in which the significant movements are those leading to the ideal of the s, while outside this process all that exists is a cultural void.

One of the consequences of the model suggested by Wilkes is the recognition of the existence of a romantic tradition in Australian literature. In his earlier Australian Literature: A Conspectus , Wilkes presents Harpur as an Australian representative of the romantic tradition: Harpur is historically important for beginning to adapt the Wordsworthian tradition to the Australian scene, for suggesting the Utopian vision that was to animate later writers and for acclimatizing the Romantic mystique of the poet.

While his poetry offers more to engage the mind than the work of any other of his period, it marks him still has a labourer before the dawn. He is no longer imitative and un- Australian but representative of a particular phase in literary history. The critical reassessment of Whitman and Harpur has continued to change in recent decades.

The revisionist critique of the Whitmanian speaker as the symbol of the nation has been effectively summed up by Charles Altieri: Any synecdochic grounding for national identity is doubly problematic—in its relying on a single figure that necessarily excludes the range of differences and antagonistic tensions that constitutes the political fabric and in its overall idealizing of the nation as the locus of collective identification. The second objection then adapts this theoretical perspective to the specific evaluation of Whitman by insisting on important limitations fundamental to his way of seeking representativeness.

For he projects as a collective what is in fact a single white male perspective. While this is a persuasive argument, it can be counteracted to some extent. But Takaki was not the first to use Whitman as a vehicle to advance a minority cause. During the Civil Rights movement, African American activists drew on Whitman in their demands for equality. I am the darker brother. Tomorrow, I'll be at the table When company comes. Hughes strongly echoes Whitman. He gives him clean clothes and a place to sleep, and invites him to eat next to him at the table as a symbol of equality.

Similarly, fellow African American poet June Jordan has claimed that because Whitman was despised by his contemporaries, he enjoyed a particular connection with the outcast and the dispossessed. Price, To Walt 4. Jordan hails Whitman not only as an African American spokesman but also as the representative of all the marginalised in the American continent, and she explicitly mentions South America.

Whitman has indeed appealed to Hispanic American writers. This particular point of view is now widely perceived as far too narrow. The author of such text would have to invent everything. Harpur in Australia has not been subject to the same kinds of reassessments and reclamations as Whitman in the United States, unsurprisingly perhaps given his lesser role in accounts of the national literary tradition.

Nonetheless, criticism has continued the positive re- evaluation of his significance to Australian literature. However, I have also contended that Whitman and Harpur developed radically different understandings of common principles. For example, while for Harpur being original meant adapting the British tradition to a new environment, Whitman argued that the poetry of the new world must break away from previous models. These significant differences can be explained by the widely different historical and cultural contexts in which Whitman and Harpur lived.

When Harpur was writing, people in the Australian colonies identified themselves culturally and at least to some extent politically as British, not every white man could vote needless to say that women and Aboriginal people could not , democracy was not established and self-government not republicanism was the more pressing issue. The point of this chapter was to demonstrate that there was a Whitman-like figure in Australia, and much earlier than is usually acknowledged. This chapter aims to address this oversight. These two poems Nay, I would go so far as to say that those of us who can be content with the role of translator , would do far greater service to the great Australia of the future, if instead of translating Homer, Horace, or Dante, into English: we would set to work to translate these two poems into Australian.

America, curious toward foreign characters, stands by its own at all hazards, Stands removed, spacious, composite, sound, initiates the true use of precedents, Does not repel them or the past or what they have produced under their forms, Any period one nation must lead, One land must be the promise and reliance of the future. Nor should it be necessary to urge long to persuade a people whose edition of the Bible contains the lovely unmetrical poetry of the Psalms … that metre, in the conventional sense, is not essential to poetry.

Moreover, it is in this region that the poet can best demonstrate what the theologian or the moralist has never done there, that the True, the Good and the Beautiful are One!

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Correspondence 38 Who would have thought back in that Whitman would one day describe Britain as a loving parent and cast even the slightest doubt over the benefits of political independence? However, this is not to say that the letters are without interest. For ages yet shall you so walk with young men out for their afternoon holiday. To be properly American is thus, as Whitman conceives it, to feel oneself related in a quite intimate way to a world of people not proximate or even known.

For Whitman, literary texts were to complement the Constitution by tying the people together to create a national consciousness. Leaves of Grass and its preface inspired Poetry Militant and Dawnward? Although it was not a preface but a lecture delivered after Dawnward? He did not think that individuals naturally possessed the required qualities to take informed decisions. Therefore, to empower a collective of uneducated people was to put democracy in grave danger.

However, as we will see later, Whitman strongly rejected this view and made the urban crowd a key component of his depiction of America as a democratic nation. The crowd was the embodiment of the idea of the tyranny of the majority or mob rule: The absolute rule of the majority over the minority is, if not under the guiding rein of an ever-present conscience, likely to be productive of greater physical horrors, greater dangers to liberty, and greater intellectual, moral and spiritual degradation than the most odious tyranny that ever sat like a nightmare on the destinies of nations.

A new demesne for Mammon to infest? His sense of poetic mission led him away from a vernacular language that might have enabled the masses to recognize themselves in his poetry the vernacular diction of the bush ballads proved much more appealing to them. Whitman was uneducated and he did not have much sympathy for the academic world. On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditation that you might suppose.

I will plant companionship thick as trees along the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies, For you these from me, O Democracy to serve you ma femme! For you, for you I am trilling these songs. The two poets also agreed that true democracy should be based on the idea of universal brotherhood, on the love of comrades. However, they disagreed on the subject of federation. He had good juristic reasons for most of his objections, but it must be admitted that at the bottom of them lay a stubborn local patriotism.

He believed that Victoria through its tariff law and social legislation had advanced further than other colonies, some of which were still in a fairly primitive stage. Federation where every state conserves a large autonomy while being part of a national union is the political application of this concept.

According to Whitman what set America apart was its vastness and diversity and, even if there were inequalities, they were lessened and resolved precisely because the states were united. The upholders of this particular doctrine argued that the work of art was autotelic, that it only existed for itself and had no social function. In the schoolroom, form is our object and is consciously pursued, so that we may learn to use it automatically; but in real life, form consciously pursued produces but baby toys … the high seriousness rightly demanded of the true poet is hardly possible in writing beautiful poems that say nothing.

If poetry is to sing the praises of the democratic future, it also needs to develop a form which departs from contemporary models. My reply to that is simply that I decline to allow the right of the infant Past to govern the growth of the adolescent Present and the adult Future. Indeed, Whitman justified his disregard for artistic conventions by arguing that the poetry of the new world required a radically different form.

If [the poet] does not expose superior models While both poets believed that it was necessary to break away from contemporary models, their opinions diverged when it came to how new poetry should look, even if their poetic visions shared a desire for simplicity. Like the fourteener, personification also exemplifies his paradoxical desire to revive old fashioned literary devices. Both poems have been read as national epics. James E. Miller has argued that Leaves of Grass was the lyric-epic of America because it fuses the private genre of the lyric with its more public counterpart, the epic, by simultaneously celebrating the individual and the nation.

Australia can inherit all the dreams and discoveries of Europe but will she inherit nothing evil? The poet looks at the lives of factories and farms and fears and again wonders and fears seeing only repetitions of old worlds mistakes and sins. Then, with a gesture, he renounces fear. Many stanzas are autobiographical but only in such a way as to relate the man to the Bush. The towers that Phoebus builds can never fall: Desire that Helen lights can never pall: Yea, wounded Love hath still but gods to fly to, When lust of war inflames Diomedes Must some Australian Hector vainly die, too?

Captives in ships O change that omen, Trees! It was a reaction against modernity, an attempt to stem its advance and to leap back to a pre-modern age. Sometimes, they remained mere words on the page—ugly words that with their assertive capital letters stood like rocks against the flow of verse. For example, consider section I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise, …………………………………………………………….. A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn … ………………………………………………….. At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine, or the Texas ranch[.

Ideas may be attached to the descriptions of America and its people but physical realities always come first. All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain. If the greatnesses [sic] are in conjunction in a man or a woman it is enough. For some time, in the early to mid-twentieth century, he was the strongest candidate for election to the post of national poet, but with the professionalization of literary criticism, the advent of New Criticism and modernist literature, and the decline of the nationalist paradigm, his reputation rapidly deteriorated.

In , D.

We Came This Way - Poet Of Democracy, Walt Whitman (July 26, 1945)

In my previous chapter, I discussed the ways in which Whitman was used by post-World War II American critics as a founding example of a typically American writer. I would like to briefly turn to how Whitman was perceived by the American poets who succeeded him. Whitman has been widely accepted by American poets as the head of the American poetic tradition. Poet Edgar Lee Masters argued that Whitman was the original American poet because his work expressed the American character in its most primal form: It is not because Whitman is a better poet than Emerson that he may be called the father of American poetry Whitman was the tribal prophet and poet … Whitman had the right idea , namely that poetry, the real written word , must come out of the earth I come to you as a grown child Who has had a pig-headed father; I am old enough now to make friends.

It was you that broke the new wood, Now is a time for carving. We have one sap and one root— Let there be commerce between us. Pound makes clear that the tradition he is writing in and must build upon originates in Whitman, that Whitman is the sap and the root of American poetry. Everything is generalized, opaque; nothing is given its local habitation or due name.

The attempt is neither ignoble nor negligible, but it accomplishes nothing of what its author intended.

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If poetry was to be more universal, it had to take on more universal themes. Never was there, perhaps, more hollowness at heart than at present, and here in the United States. Genuine belief seems to have left us. To take expression, to incarnate, to endow a literature with grand and archetypal models — to fill with pride and love the utmost capacity, and to achieve spiritual meanings, and suggest the future — these, and these only, satisfy the soul.

We must not say one word against real materials; but the wise know that they do not become real till touched by emotions, the mind. I know nothing grander, better exercise, better digestion, more positive proof of the past, the triumphant result of faith in human kind, than a well-contested American national election.

It is the dilettantes, and all who shirk their duty, who are not doing well… America, if eligible at all to downfall and ruin, is eligible within herself, not without. The sole antidote, Whitman reminds us, lies in our own hands and the ballots they hold — in not shirking our duty as voters.

He shares his advice to the young:. Enter more strongly yet into politics… Always inform yourself; always do the best you can; always vote. I have sometimes thought … that the sole avenue and means of a reconstructed sociology depended, primarily, on a new birth, elevation, expansion, invigoration of woman… Great, great, indeed, far greater than they know, is the sphere of women.


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  5. Of all dangers to a nation, as things exist in our day, there can be no greater one than having certain portions of the people set off from the rest by a line drawn — they not privileged as others, but degraded, humiliated, made of no account. The supreme tool of reconstructing a more equal society, Whitman asserts, is literature — a body of literature that gives voice to the underrepresented, that elevates and expands and invigorates their spirits by mirroring them back to themselves as indelibly worthy of belonging to society.