Democratic & Nationalism in Walt Whitman’s Poetry

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      Nationalism and Democratic Ideal find expression in Whitman’s poetry. Whitman identified America with the concept of freedom. Thus when he is inspired by nationalism he is also paying tribute to democratic ideals. Poetry and art, he felt, were expressions of the unhampered life of a free people.

      On each page of his work, one finds scenes and people from American life. His poetry sings of America, and through that of the universal aspects of human dignity and equality.

      “Spiritual” Democracy: A New Angle in Whitman’s Poetry: Whitman enlarges the scope of democracy in his poems. Democracy is to cultivate individualism. Whitman anticipates in true democracy possibilities of universal peace, brotherhood and tolerance. He conceives of a “spiritual democracy” or a “democratic community in which equal and infinite souls interpenetrate without arrogating to themselves the power and authority over others.”

      Humanitarianism and Fellow-Being and Sympathy characterise several of Whitman’s poems, showing his democratic ideal. He had sympathy for the entire creation of God. He is ready to hold out his hand in friendship to a “Common Prostitute”. The Calamus Poems show that the success of democracy depends on the cooperation of its members. For him, everything will perish except the “love of comrades”. His use of the word “en-masse" is significant, for he fully identifies himself with humanity at large.

      Attitude to Women: Whitman insisted upon the equality of the sexes:

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man.

      Leaves of Grass gives equal status to women with men - she is mate and not a toy of man. This makes Whitman’s poetry truly democratic in spirit.

      Importance of Science. Whitman considered science to be of vital importance to the progress of democracy. In Passage to India, for instance, he commends scientists for creating a sense of unity in the world. But he did not advocate man’s submission to science. In Whitman’s poetry, we find evidence of his chief service to the modern and democratic sensibility - he helped to dissociate such proud words as ‘noble’ from their old affiliations with caste and to reassociate them with the rank and file (Newton Arvin).

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