Prosody or Verification in Walt Whitman’s Poetry

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      Whitman was a bold innovator and rejected the existing prosody which he felt could not suit the vastness of his subject and his conception of limitless space and time. He firmly challenges the fixed possibilities and limitations of traditional verse forms. Any external constraint he found repulsive, and as Edward Carpenter observes, the “emotion as he (Whitman) deals with, could never be caged in a symmetrical verse or stanza”. Thus, his Leaves of Grass offered a “deliberate challenge to the conventional ideas of which is beautiful and appropriation verse”, as Selincourt points out. Whitman made use of a variety of forms with complete independence to alter them, as he chose, to suit his ideas. Form for Whitman, was a principle of imagination to become an analog for “purports and facts”. In short, the special aspects of Whitman’s revolutionary prosody are as follows:-

      Whitman Rejected Conventional Use of Rhyme and Metre. However, in some poems, he resorts to rhyme and meter, almost unconsciously. O Captain! My Captain has metrical regularity. Pioneers O Pioneers, too, shows regular metrical pattern. He has an instinct for rhythmical expression, but the rhythm he chooses lends itself to his style. The rhythms of his verses are like the rhythms of the sea-elastic, intricate, fluid.

      A Gradual Evolution Towards Greater Rhythmical Regularity is in evidence through the successive editions or Leaves and Grass. The basic principle in Whitman’s versification in his belief that form springs from within, that a poetic experience will find its own natural rhythm in the act of expression.

      Free Verse is used by Whitman in a Musical Sense. The vers libre or free verse is used creatively but not without any sense or discipline as in the case of some modern practitioners of this form. Importance is given to cadences and principles of musical composition are used to control the free verse. “It was preciseness of motive linked to feeling which he sought to attain”. He uses the caesura or pauses with skill to give rhythmic meaning to his lines. Indeed, Whitman’s unique free-verse style makes him an innovator in the field of prosody.

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