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Describe the tone of Walt Whitman’s “To a Locomotive in Winter”.

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ssdude2004 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted May 28, 2010 at 4:14 PM via web

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Describe the tone of Walt Whitman’s “To a Locomotive in Winter”.

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted May 28, 2010 at 10:15 PM (Answer #1)

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Whitman's "To a Locomotive in Winter" (1876) is a majestic ode celebrating the grandeur of the locomotive - symbol of America's scientific achievement and  technological might:

Type of the modern--emblem of motion and power--pulse of the continent,

Unlike the romantics who wrote odes celebrating the flora and fauna of Nature, Whitman glorifies the mechanical marvel, the steam locomotive.

Throughout the poem Whitman is in awe not only of the raw power of the locomotive but also of its aesthetic design which is encapsulated  in the expression:

Fierce-throated beauty!

echoing Keats' admiration for his nightingale which sings with "full-throated ease." Unlike Keats' nightingale whose bewitching music held him in thrall forever, Whitman's locomotive is characterized by "lawless music" which is expressed in,

Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling like an earthquake,

The tone of admiration and reverence is foregrounded by Whitman's repeated use of the archaic second person singular pronouns "thee" and "thy" at the beginning of thirteen lines in the poem.

Whitman's poem celebrates the conquering of the Wild West by scientific and industrial progress symbolized by the mechanical monster the steam locomotive. The poem is characterized throughout by a sense of awe and reverence of this technological marvel.


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