Walt Whitman American Literature Analysis
When Whitman first thrust Leaves of Grass on an unsuspecting and unresponsive American public, it was clear that he viewed himself as a national bard who would inject something “transcendent and new” into the poetic veins of his country. In the preface, which was strongly influenced by Emerson’s essay “The Poet” (1844), Whitman discussed the kind of American bard he envisioned and the kind of poetry that such a bard would write.
Believing that “Americans of all nations . . . have probably the fullest poetical nature” and that “the United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem,” Whitman’s ideal was a poet whose “spirit responds to his country’s spirit. . . . [H]e incarnates its geography and natural life and rivers and lakes.” The truly American poet, like the American people, must embrace both the old and the new but must not be bound by conventional poetic forms, whether of rhyme and meter or subject matter. (Whitman had in mind both the didactic verse of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the work of the “graveyard school.”) Rather, the poet must seek to incarnate that which lies deeper than form and which reflects the laws and realities that are implanted in the human soul. Advocating a poetry of simplicity and genuineness, Whitman’s advice to his reader was to “dismiss whatever insults your own soul.”
In successive editions of Leaves of Grass, Whitman undoubtedly...
(The entire section is 6525 words.)
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