Writer's Literacy Criticism on Walt Whitman as a Poet

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      Influence of Environment (James Miller). Son of the sea and the city, absorbing both the seashore scenes and teeming Brooklyn, lover of both solitude and the crowds, Whitman found in his own earliest experiences the kind of paradox that resolved itself in his own soul. Among romantic poets, Whitman appears unique in his absorption and celebration of both country and city. His poetry represents an imaginative fusion of the two, its very form resolving their opposition and reconciling their conflicting pulls.

      Faith in Democracy (Edward Dowden). Men of every class then are interesting to Whitman. But no individual is pre-eminently interesting to him. His sketches of men and women, though wonderfully vivid and precise, are none of them longer than a page; each single figure passes rapidly out of sight, and a stream of other figures of men and women succeeds.

      Pantheistic Democracy (Schyberg). Whitman is directly led away from the ‘political’ aspect of democracy towards transcendental, pantheistic democracy, which was always the poet’s main subject. The basic emotion in Whitman’s lyricism is a feeling of kinship with all creation, evidenced in the very title Leaves of Grass. The grass is the great democratic symbol in nature.

      National Pride (Edward Dowden). His feeling for individual personality overmasters his pantheistic tendency towards the oneness of all. Death which is a name to him full of delicious tenderness and mystery, not without some element of sensuousness curiously blended with it, is but solemn and immortal birth.

      Symbolic Use of “I” (James Miller). The “I” in his poetry is a fusion of several characters, a composite character, who exists at no place other than in the poem. It symbolizes the natural propensities in man, and thus it stands for all. As the poet has an overwhelming feeling of the “oneness of all”, the “I” may even symbolize a soldier on the battlefield, or a comet rushing through the heavens.

      Symbol of Road or Journey (Charles Feidelson). Whitman’s ‘perpetual journey’ is not analogous to a sight-seeing trip, though his catalogs might give that impression; the mind and the material world into which it ventures are not ultimately different in kind. Instead, what seems at first a penetration of nature by the mind is actually a process in which the known world comes into being.

      Symbol of City (James Miller). It is only natural that one of Whitman’s most frequently recurring images should be the populous city the dwelling place of man en masse. And the detail which appears almost invariably the sidewalk or pavement suggests not man comfortably situated in his home but man in movement, energetic and creative, traveling the open and endless road.

      Theme of Love and Sex (James Miller). In sex as in other facets of life. Whitman made a universal embrace taking to himself the whole range of sexual feeling and emotion. Through sexual imagery Whitman identifies man with the fundamental generative forces in nature.

      Democratic Mysticism (James Miller). In the last analysis, Whitman’s temperament seems eminently unsuited to the selflessness of the Christian mystic and to the passivity of the Oriental. It is possible that Whitman, out of the multiple obscure sources and out of his own soul, created a unique mysticism designed for America - a “democratic” mysticism available to every man on equal terms, embracing both the body and the soul, science and myth, life and death, the active and passive, material and spiritual. But whatever the ultimate nature of his mysticism, it must be granted a central role in the meaning of his greatest poetry in the Leaves.

      Poet of Science (Anne Gilchrist). The man of science finds the letters and joins them into words. But the poet alone can complete sentences. The man of science furnishes the premises; but it is the poet who draws the final conclusions.

      Whitman: The Epic Poet (W.D.O’ Connor). Behold in Leaves of Grass the immense and absolute sunrise. It is all our own. The nation is in it. In form a series of chants, in substance, it is an epic of America. It is distinctively and utterly American. Without model, without imitation, without reminiscence, it is evolved entirely from the polity and popular life. To understand Greece, study the Iliad and Odyssey. Study Leaves of Grass to understand America.

      ‘Leaves of Grass’ America’s Epic (James Miller). Leaves of Grass is America’s epic, a reflection of her character and of her soul and of her achievements and her aspirations. Leaves of Grass transfigures what it reflects, that is because its poet wanted to dwell not on the reality but on the ideal.

      Mixed Poetic Style (Roger Asselineau). Lyrical flights are to be found side by side with prosaic banalities, mystical effusions with the most familiar expressions from the spoken language. Whitman is at his best when these two clashing elements, the abstract and the concrete are kept in balance, and the one is not allowed to overcome the other.

      Pioneer of Free Verses (James Miller). Whitman was the first poet in history to exploit to the full the possibilities of free verse. And there is a rare compatibility between his form and his themes; the long, unrestrained line in its free flow captures in its very form the spirit of democracy and freedom that Whitman breathed into his verses.

      Innovator in Form (D. Mirsky). We shall have to acknowledge that Whitman was truly great innovator, the greatest that the world of poetry has known. His innovations in form are directly derived from his novelty of content. Whitman’s language is that of the prosaic and democratic scene about him. The linguistic novelty of his poems springs from a new store of themes; the new words that we find there are for the most part the names of objects which up to his time had been held to be unpoetic.

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