Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In Walt's words...

“Self-reliant, with haughty eyes, assuming to himself all the attributes of his country, steps Walt Whitman into literature” is the poetic description provided by Walt Whitman of himself and his role as a literary in 19th century United States of America. For me, this statement suggests that Walt believes that his poem is the first great entry into the literary world by an American writer.

After browsing through the collection of reviews for Whitman’s 1855 version of Leaves of Grass, I decided to focus on the reviews written by Whitman in September and October of 1855. Who better to inform future readers what Leaves of Grass is about than the man himself? After my initial reading of the following reviews: “Walt Whitman and His Poems,” "Walt Whitman, a Brooklyn Boy," and "An English and American Poet" one of the noticeable features that stood out to me was the poetic prose feel of Whitman’s writing in his reviews.  Poetic prose, as I understand it, is the use of poetry without verse. After rereading the selections, I decided to transform the first paragraph of a couple of the reviews into traditional poetry in order to find out if my observation was valid. The following paragraph was excerpted from the review “Walt Whitman and His Poems:”

AN American bard at last!
One of the roughs,
large, proud, affectionate, eating, drinking, and breeding,
his costume manly and free, his face sunburnt and bearded,
his posture strong and erect,
his voice bringing hope and prophecy to the generous races of young and old.
We shall cease shamming and be what we really are.
We shall start an athletic and defiant literature.
We realize now how it is, and what was most lacking.
The interior American republic shall also be declared free and independent.

My goal in transforming this section of Whitman’s review into the poem was to find out if it could be read as a poem when put into verse. As you can see or read, I believe it does. In fact, I believe that this particular passage reads more precisely as a poem titled “An American Bard at Last.” My previous studies informs me that a bard was a “professional poet” in medieval times and it seems to me that this is Walt’s declaration that his poem Leaves of Grass is an American classic. Whitman confirms my assertion when he asks of the reader “but where in American literature is the first show of America?” I believe that Whitman is imploring readers to accept his work as the first great piece of American Literature. As a result, making Whitman the first great American writer: a Song of Himself, so to speak. 

1 comment:

  1. Yes - - it's difficult to distinguish Walt's prose from his poetry - - which may point us to the prosaic roots of his poetry - -all that journalism he was doing before the poem appeared.