Do you agree with the speaker's take on Whitman's poetry?The poem that the speaker reference is coming from is "Old Walt" by Langston Hughes.

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

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I think that Hughes features a profound appreciation of Walt Whitman.  Langston Hughes is different than many other thinkers who write about people of color and view past thinkers like Whitman because there is a genuine complexity reflected in the relationship he has with Whitman.  On one hand, Hughes, as an American poet, does admire Whitman.  Hughes was very quick to give credit to writers like Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman as helping to form his basis for writing.  Yet, in poems like "I, Too," Hughes is equally quick to point out that the boundless enthusiasm and optimism in the vistas of democracy that animated Whitman could not be as applicable for people of color.  Hughes then ends up straddling an appreciation of writers like Whitman and understanding where their limitations might lie.  When he writes in "Old Walt," about how Whitman "pleasured equally/ in seeking as well as finding," there is a certain melancholy that is found in both Whitman, the subject, and Hughes, the writer.  The idea that there is some level of incomplete in Whitman, one of the architects of the American vision, and Hughes, who, as a person of color, must live with the American reality, is seen in the notion of being "pleasured" in using freedom without a full grasp of totalizing consequences in it.  When the poem ends and Walt proceeds in "seeking and finding," we are never quite resolved in whether Walt is successful.  Borrowing from Cervantes, where the sword fight is incomplete, Hughes' seems to suggest that Whitman's striving for beauty in the American Dream is one that is similarly "deferred," just as much in America is for people of color of the time.

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