Walt Whitman - The Democratic Poet and His Prose on Democracy - A Comparison of Whitman's Concept of the Poet's Role in Developing a National Identity in "Preface 1855 - Leaves of Grass" and "From Democratic Vistas" 1871
GRIN Verlag, 2007 - 36 pages
Seminar paper from the year 2004 in the subject American Studies - Literature, grade: 2, Free University of Berlin (John-F.-Kennedy Institut), 9 entries in the bibliography, language: English, comment: Double spaced, abstract: When the 52-year-old Walt Whitman published his essay "From Democratic Vistas" in 1871, the end of the Civil War was only six years ago. The wounds of this five-year-war of brother against brother were certainly not healed and the question of re-unification was still un-answered. During the 1860s and 1870s the United States were changing tremendously. Due to the Civil War, the Reconstruction Era and the following Gilded Age, America was turning into a modern, industrialized country where materialism seemed to be the finite answer. Though Whitman fully acknowledged this materialistic development of his country, he nevertheless saw beyond the simple answers of wealth and prosperity. Whitman realized that the United States found themselves at a turning point, which was to decide upon their democratic future. At this point in time, Whitman wrote his essay "From Democratic Vistas" on the outlooks of America's future democracy. According to him, this future lied in a democratic nationality and a spiritual union that could only be achieved through a national literature. The call for a national literature led by the American poet was not something new in Whitman's written work. Already in his "Preface 1855 - Leaves of Grass," published six years before the beginning of the Civil War, he had formulated that America "with veins full of poetical stuff most need s] poets." Nevertheless, there is a noticeable difference between the general role of the poet in his 1855 preface and the urgent need of national literary figures in times of re-unification that Whitman put forth in his 1871 essay. While Whitman's poet in the 1855 preface obtained the role of an observer of the country and her common people, the poet's role in "From Democratic Vistas" chan
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Page 11 - For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument that makes a poem,— a thought so passionate and alive that like the spirit of a plant or an animal it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing.
Page 12 - It is the powerful language of resistance ... it is the dialect of common sense. It is the speech of the proud and melancholy races and of all who aspire. It is the chosen tongue to express growth faith self-esteem freedom justice equality friendliness amplitude prudence decision and courage.
Page 28 - For, as it is dislocation and detachment from the life of God, that makes things ugly, the poet, who re-attaches things to nature and the Whole, — re-attaching even artificial things, and violations of nature, to nature, by a deeper insight, — disposes very easily of the most disagreeable facts.
Page 10 - The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters is simplicity. Nothing is better than simplicity . . . nothing can make up for excess or for the lack of definiteness.
Page 10 - The poetic quality is not marshalled in rhyme or uniformity or abstract addresses to things nor in melancholy complaints or good precepts, but is the life of these and much else and is in the soul.
Page 12 - The greatest poet has less a marked style and is more the channel of thoughts and things without increase or diminution, and is the free channel of himself. He swears to his art, I will not be meddlesome, I will not have in my writing any elegance or effect or originality to hang in the way between me and the rest like curtains. I will have nothing hang in the way, not the richest curtains. What I tell I tell for precisely what it is.
Page 11 - The profit of rhyme is that it drops seeds of a sweeter and more luxuriant rhyme, and of uniformity that it conveys itself into its own roots in the ground out of sight. The rhyme and uniformity of perfect poems show the free growth of metrical laws and bud from them as unerringly and loosely as lilacs or roses on a bush, and take shapes as compact as the shapes of chestnuts and oranges and melons and pears, and shed the perfume impalpable to form.