The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Louis Simpson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry collection At the End of the Open Road includes the poem “Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain.” This verse contains twelve stanzas, which are uncontrolled by rhyme, meter, or specific divisions. Two topics—the poet Walt Whitman and the United States—bring the only order to the forty-four lines of poetry. In the verse, Simpson celebrates Whitman, bemoans a nation of self-seekers who have forsaken the American ideal, predicts the nation’s demise, prescribes a remedy—confusing though it is—for the loss of the American Dream, and leaves the reader with a sense of optimism.

The initial twenty-five lines of the poem center on Walt Whitman, who had an impact on Simpson’s life and work but did not determine his writing style. The first five lines describe the bronze statue of Whitman. Located at Bear Mountain State Park in New York, the sculpture is a realistic representation of the poet. As the self-sufficient poet had often done, the statue stands “squarely on two feet”; the form is “Neither on horseback nor seated.” The figure “Loafs by the footpathlooks alive/And he seems friendly.” In the next five lines Simpson asks Whitman several questions: “‘Where is the Mississippi panorama/ And the girl who played the piano?’” The poet wonders where Whitman and his promised nation are.

In lines 11-15 Simpson laments the national preoccupation with transient, material...

(The entire section is 419 words.)