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The Fireside poets (Longfellow, Holmes, Whittier, etc.) were traditionalists, following the “rules” of Victorian England’s poets, in rhyme schemes, meter, etc. Whitman was the pioneer in free verse, with a long, involved poetic line whose internal rhythms were subtle and subjective. Compare “Alone and lighthearted, I take to the open road” with “Listen, my children and you shall hear/ Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere”. The Fireside poets were “romantic” in their sentiment, interested in telling narratives, easy to memorize—in short, superficial and transparent in theme, while Whitman chose to not only ignore reader appeal, but to bare his soul in every line, without artifice. He was much more imaginative, while at the same time honest about his impulses, his love of the whole world, his connection with Nature as something he belonged to, not something he was superior to. Today, the Fireside poets are virtually forgotten academically, and Whitman is on everyone’s list of “canon” writers.
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