The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

It could be said that Walt Whitman bridged the movements of the Romanticism that preceded him and the modernism that was to follow. In the spirit of Romanticism he wrote in praise of the beauty of nature, as in “O Magnet South,” “The Dalliance of the Eagles,” and “Germ.” He also championed the individual, as “Song of Myself” demonstrates so strikingly. His poetry shunned the classical emphasis on order and balance to the point of creating a style unique in his time. Yet many of Whitman’s poems move him some distance from the styles and objects of Romanticism. His abandonment of traditional modes of meter and rhyme makes Whitman the most important precursor of the style of free verse. Furthermore, he foreshadows the early twentieth century movement of modernism.

His style was a self-conscious break with the traditional forms and subject matter of poetry. His use of unrhymed lines in a form without meter was a departure from all who preceded him in poetry. His innovation in subject matter is seen in such poems as “The Beauty of the Ship” and “Sparkles from the Wheel,” in which he celebrates the plain and the mundane. Yet nowhere does he do so more conspicuously as in “To a Locomotive in Winter,” in which he calls the locomotive a “Type of the modern.” Here is a conscious turning away from Romantic content to a very modern theme, the machine, as an object not only of interest but also of the poet’s admiration, even his adoration.

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(The entire section is 606 words.)