Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Walt Whitman published several important essays and studies during his lifetime. Democratic Vistas (1871), Memoranda During the War (1875-1876), Specimen Days and Collect (1882-1883, autobiographical sketches), and the Complete Prose Works (1892) are the most significant. He also tried his hand at short fiction, collected in The Half-Breed, and Other Stories (1927), and a novel, Franklin Evans (1842). Many of his letters and journals have appeared either in early editions or as parts of the New York University Press edition of The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman (1961-1984; 22 volumes).
Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Walt Whitman’s stature rests largely on two major contributions to the literature of the United States. First, although detractors are numerous and the poet’s organizing principle is sometimes blurred, Leaves of Grass stands as the most fully realized American epic poem. Written in the midst of natural grandeur and burgeoning materialism, Whitman’s book traces the geographical, social, and spiritual contours of an expanding nation. It embraces the science and commercialism of industrial America while trying to direct these practical energies toward the “higher mind” of literature, culture, and the soul. In his preface to the first edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman referred to the United States itself as “essentially the greatest poem.” He saw the self-esteem, sympathy, candor, and deathless attachment to freedom of the common people as “unrhymed poetry,” which awaited the “gigantic and generous treatment worthy of it.” Leaves of Grass was to be that treatment.
The poet’s second achievement was in language and poetic technique. Readers take for granted the modern American poet’s emphasis on free verse and ordinary diction, forgetting Whitman’s revolutionary impact. His free-verse form departed from stanzaic patterns and regular lines, taking its power instead from individual, rolling, oratorical lines of cadenced speech. He subordinated traditional poetic techniques, such as alliteration, repetition,...
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Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Consider “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” as a poem about personal destiny.
What features of Song of Myself make it clear that the poem is not merely an exercise in egotism?
What is there about grass that inspired Walt Whitman to use the title Leaves of Grass for his book?
What makes “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” a timeless poem despite the passing of this particular ferry service?
What qualities make “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” superior to Whitman’s other poems on Abraham Lincoln’s death, including the well-known “O Captain, My Captain”?
What are the predominant images of “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” and how does he connect them in the poem?
How free are the rhythms of Whitman’s free verse?
Bibliography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. Rev. ed. New York: New York University Press, 1967. A careful, scholarly biography based on extensive archival sources, including manuscripts and letters, that attempts to treat Whitman’s life in terms of the poet’s work.
Aspiz, Harold. So Long! Walt Whitman’s Poetry of Death. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004. Examines the theme of death in Whitman’ poetry. Aspiz draws connections between the poet’s developing view of death and the views of certain influential acquaintances.
Asselineau, Roger. The Evolution of Walt Whitman. Expanded ed. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1999. Asselineau writes with authority on a vast range of topics that define both Whitman the man and Whitman the mythical personage.
Brasher, Thomas L. Whitman as Editor of the Brooklyn “Daily Eagle.” Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1970. A thorough account of Whitman’s work as a journalist, connecting his newspaper work to the social and political conditions of New York City and the country at large.
Gold, Arthur, ed. Walt Whitman: A Collection of Criticism. New York: McGraw Hill, 1974. Concentrates on academic criticism, on the poet’s creative process, his literary reputation, his revisions of Leaves of Grass, and his vision of the United States in Democratic Vistas. A detailed chronology and a select, annotated bibliography make this...
(The entire section is 628 words.)