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Whitman female counterpartIf you would choose a female counterpart to Whitman, who...

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sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted October 19, 2007 at 12:11 PM via web

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Whitman female counterpart

If you would choose a female counterpart to Whitman, who would she be? Does America have a female poet who speaks of connection and individualism in the sensual, mystic way that Whitman does?  Is his voice so decidedly male (never mind his sexual identity) that our culture does not have a woman who sings as he does? 

 

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jamie-wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted October 19, 2007 at 1:58 PM (Answer #2)

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Whitman female counterpart

If you would choose a female counterpart to Whitman, who would she be? Does America have a female poet who speaks of connection and individualism in the sensual, mystic way that Whitman does?  Is his voice so decidedly male (never mind his sexual identity) that our culture does not have a woman who sings as he does? 

 

Although she is not nearly as well known (nor exactly the same era), one of the early-mid 20th century poets that comes to mind is Elizabeth Bishop.  Her poems reflect grandeur of the States and often reflect intense personal insight.  Like Whitman, Bishop too was bisexual, so there is that connection. 

Here are a couple of excerpts, and a link to, poets.org, producers of the fantastic series, "Voices and Visions."  The first excerpt reflects her sense of being American, the second her personal reflectiveness:

At the Fishhouse

Although it is a cold evening,

down by one of the fishhouses

an old man sits netting,

his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,

a dark purple-brown,

and his shuttle worn and polished.

The air smells so strong of codfish

it makes one's nose run and one's eyes water.

The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs

and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up

to storerooms in the gables

for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.

 

and, from "The Waiting Room" (mid poem)

But I felt: you are an I,

you are an Elizabeth,

you are one of them.

Why should you be one, too?

I scarcely dared to look

to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance

--I couldn't look any higher--

at shadowy gray knees,

trousers and skirts and boots

and different pairs of hands

lying under the lamps.

I knew that nothing stranger

had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.



Why should I be my aunt,

or me, or anyone?

 

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jamie-wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted October 19, 2007 at 1:59 PM (Answer #3)

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Oh, whoops.  Here is the link:

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/7 

 

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sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted October 20, 2007 at 7:11 AM (Answer #4)

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Good choice!  She doesn't really have the epic quality, but she has the nature connection--and how she connects.  I'm thinking of her poem "The Fish," where she catches this fish and begins to look at it closer and closer, seeing it as an "other," finally realizing (I think) that she will have to let it go because she sees it as a living creature.  I'm not sure I could force students (force being the operative word here) into a solid comparison and contrast with Whitman and Bishop, and that is one option I would like in thinking this through.

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jamie-wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted October 21, 2007 at 5:51 AM (Answer #5)

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Good choice!  She doesn't really have the epic quality, but she has the nature connection--and how she connects.  I'm thinking of her poem "The Fish," where she catches this fish and begins to look at it closer and closer, seeing it as an "other," finally realizing (I think) that she will have to let it go because she sees it as a living creature.  I'm not sure I could force students (force being the operative word here) into a solid comparison and contrast with Whitman and Bishop, and that is one option I would like in thinking this through.

I don't know that there could be a direct comparison to Whitman, male or female.  A voice such as his has been frequently imitated, but never duplicated.  But a female voice in Whitman's time...I think there is a two-fold problem to this query.  First, there is the continuing dilemma of recovery.  Think of Dickinson burying her poems in her "hope" chest, of the many women, such as the Brontes and Eliot who had to adopt male pen-names to be published at all.

Then there is the sticky problem of freedom.  Whitman, being male, could travel freely and experience life as few, if any, women could openly do.  Now, of course, women are able to roam and experience life in its totality as do men.  If we extend your question into the later 20th century and beyond, might there be a female poet as powerful in scope as is Whitman? 

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