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Can anyone explain what Walt Whitman is talking about in his preface to Leaves of...

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emmi35 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted December 10, 2010 at 8:23 PM via web

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Can anyone explain what Walt Whitman is talking about in his preface to Leaves of Grass, please?

I have to argue whether or not we have, indeed, fulfilled the promise of American literature based on literature ranging from Walt Whitman to Toni Morrison.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 11, 2010 at 3:40 AM (Answer #2)

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I am struck by some of the opening words in the Preface to Whitman's work.  The idea of "The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth, have probably the fullest poetical nature" and that "The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem" help to bring out the basic premise of the work and Whitman's commitment to it.  At a time when the nation was emerging, struggling to articulate a voice, Whitman, spurred on by Emerson's assertion of the need for a national poetic voice, believed that the nation of America, itself, is its own poem.  Its vitality and youth, a condition that was far from static, allowed it to be its own poem.  In this light, I think that Whitman believes that poetry is the exploration of narrative, personal fusing with national.  From this belief, I think that American Literature has been driven by a sentiment to bring out narratives of those from divergent paths that have found their home in America.  Accordingly, I would say that American Literature has done a commendable job in being able to bring out the "poetry" that is in America, a poem that has both ecstatic triumph along side horrific pain.

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