Certain faults are charged against him, and, as far as they are true, shall frankly stand confessed—some of them as very serious faults. Firstly, he speaks on occasion of gross things in gross, crude, or plain terms.
Secondly, he uses some words absurd or ill-constructed, others which produce a jarring effect in poetry, or indeed in any lofty literature. Thirdly, he sins from time to time by being obscure, fragmentary, and agglomerative—giving long strings of successive and detached items, not, however, devoid of a certain primitive effectiveness. Fourthly, his self-assertion is boundless; yet not always to be under- stood as strictly or merely personal to himself, but some- times as vicarious, the poet speaking on behalf of all men, and every man and woman.
That, for the use of the New World, I sing. Not physiog-. The female equally with. I speak the word of the. My days I sing, and the lands—with interstice I knew of hapless. And thus upon our journey linked together let us go.
The book, then, taken as a whole, is the poem both of Personality and of Democracy; and, it may be added, of American nationalism. It is par excellence the modern poem. It is distinguished also by this peculiarity—that in it the most literal view of things is continually merging into the most rhapsodic or passionately abstract.
He is both a realist and an optimist in extreme measure: he contemplates evil as in some sense not existing, or, if existing, then as being of as much im- portance as anything else. Not that he is a materialist; on the contrary, he is a most strenuous assertor of the soul, and, with the soul, of the body as its infallible asso- ciate and vehicle in the present frame of things. Neither does he drift into fatalism or indifferentism; the energy of his temperament, and ever-fresh sympathy with national and other developments, being an effectual bar to this.
The paradoxical element of the poems is such that one may sometimes find them in conflict with what has pre- ceded, and would not be much surprised if they said at any moment the reverse of whatever they do say. This is mainly due to the multiplicity of the aspects of things, and to the immense width of relation in which Whitman stands to all sorts and all aspects of them.
To continue. Besides originality and daring, which have been already insisted upon, width and intensity are leading characteristics of his writings—width both of subject-matter and of comprehension, intensity of self-absorption into what the poet contemplates and expresses. He scans and presents and enormous panorama, unrolled before him as from a mountain-top; and yet whatever most large or most minute or casual thing his eye glances upon, that he enters into with a depth of affection which identifies him with it for the time, be the object what it may. There is a singular interchange also of actuality and of ideal substratum and suggestion.
While he sees men, with even abnormal exactness and sympathy, as men, he sees them also "as trees walking," and admits us to perceive that the whole show is in a measure spectral and unsubstantial, and the mask of a larger and profounder reality beneath it, of which it is giving perpetual intimations and auguries.
He is the poet indeed of literality, but of passionate and significant literality, full of indirections as well as directness, and of readings between the lines.brutmisunsemb.tk
"Poems by Walt Whitman," Selected and Edited by William Michael Rossetti ().
All his faculties and performance glow into a white heat of brotherliness; and there is a poignancy both of tenderness and of beauty about his finer works which. He takes man, and every organism and faculty of man, as the unit—the datum—from which all that we know, discern,. Let us next obtain some idea of what this most remark- able poet—the founder of American poetry rightly to be so called, and the most sonorous poetic voice of the tangibi- lities of actual and prospective democracy—is in his proper life and person. Walt Whitman we infer that he was in fact baptized Walter, like his father, but he always uses the name Walt was born at the farm-village of West Hills, Long Island, in the State of New York, and about thirty miles distant from the capital, on the 31st of May A large family ensued from the mar- riage.
The father was a farmer, and afterwards a car- penter and builder: both parents adhered in religion to "the great Quaker iconoclast, Elias Hicks. The best sketch that I know of Whitman as an acces- sible human individual is that given by Mr. I saw stretched upon his back, and gazing up straight at the terrible sun, the man I was seeking. With his grey. The first trace of Whitman as a writer is in the pages of the Democratic Review in or about Here he wrote some prose tales and sketches—poor stuff mostly, so far as I have seen of them, yet not to be wholly con- founded with the commonplace.
One of them is a tragic school-incident, which may be surmised to have fallen under his personal observation in his early experience as a teacher. His first poem of any sort was named Blood Money , in denunciation of the Fugitive Slave Law, which severed him from the Democratic party. His first con- siderable work was the Leaves of Grass. He began it in , and it underwent two or three complete re- writings prior to its publication at Brooklyn in , in a quarto volume—peculiar-looking, but with something per- ceptibly artistic about it.
The type of that edition was set up entirely by himself. Conway has given a sentence or two by his sense of the great materials which America could offer for a really American poetry, and by his con- tempt for the current work of his compatriots—"either. He termed it "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. Towards the end of a second edition in 16mo appeared, printed in New York, also of about a.
My choice has proceeded upon two simple rules: first, to omit entirely every poem which could with any tolerable fairness be deemed offensive to the feelings of morals or propriety in this peculiarly nervous age; and, second, to include every remaining poem which appeared to me of conspicuous beauty or interest. I have also in- serted the very remarkable prose preface which Whitman printed in the original edition of Leaves of Grass , an edition that has become a literary rarity.
This preface has not been reproduced in any later publication, although its materials have to some extent been worked up into poems of a subsequent date. Indecencies or improprie- ties—or, still better, deforming crudities—they may rightly. The only division of his poems into selections, made by Whitman himself, has been noted above: Leaves of Grass, Songs before Parting, supplementary to the pre- ceeding, and Drum Taps, with their Sequel. The peculiar title, Leaves of Grass , has become almost inseparable from the name of Whitman; it seems to express with some aptness the simplicity, universality, and spontaneity, of the poems to which it is applied.
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Drum Taps are, of course,. The first thee designations explain themselves. The fourth, Leaves of Grass , is not so specially applicable to the particular poems of that selection here as I should have liked it to be; but I could not consent to drop this typical name. The Songs of Parting , my fifth section, are compositions in which the poet expresses his own. Most of them are merely headed with the opening words of the poems themselves—as "I was looking a long while;" "To get betimes in Boston Town;" "When lilacs last in the door-yard bloomed;" and so on.
It seems to me that in a selection such a lengthy and circuitous method of identi- fying the poems is not desirable: I should wish them to be remembered by brief, repeatable, and significant titles. I have therefore supplied titles of my own to such pieces as bear none in the original edition: wherever a real title appears in that edition, I have retained it. With these remarks I commend to the English reader the ensuing selection from a writer whom I sincerely be- lieve to be, whatever his faults, of the order of great.
Walt Whitman occupies at the present moment a unique position on the globe, and one which, even in past time, can have been occupied by only an infinitesi- mally small number of men. He is the one man who enter- tains and professes respecting himself the grave conviction that he is the actual and prospective founder of a new poetic literature, and a great one—a literature proportional to the material vastness and the unmeasured destinies of America: he believes that the Columbus of the continent or the Washington of the States was not more truly than himself in the future a founder and upbuilder of this America.
Surely a sublime conviction, and expressed more than once in magnificent words—none more so than the lines beginning. Whitman seems in a peculiar degree marked out for "legislation" of the kind referred to. His voice will one day be potential or magisterial wherever the English language is spoken—that is to say, in the four corners of the earth; and, in his own American hemisphere, the uttermost avatars of democracy will confess him not more their announcer than their inspirer.
The Americans, of all nations at any time upon the earth, have probably the fullest poetical Nature.
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The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem. In the history of the earth hitherto the largest and most stirring appear tame and orderly to their. Other states indicate themselves in their deputies: but the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlours, nor even in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the common people. Their manners, speech, dress, friendships, —the freshness and candour of their physiognomy—the picturesque looseness of their carriage—their deathless attachment to freedom—their aversion to anything inde- corous or soft or mean—the practical acknowledgment.
The largeness of nature or the nation were monstrous without a corresponding largeness and generosity of the spirit of the citizen. Not nature, nor swarming states, nor streets and steamships, nor prosperous business, nor farms nor capital nor learning, may suffice for the ideal of man, nor suffice the poet.
No reminiscences may suf- fice either. A live nation can always cut a deep mark, and can have the best authority the cheapest—namely from its own soul. This is the sum of the profitable uses of individuals or states, and of present action and grandeur and of the subjects of poets. As if the beauty and sacredness of the demonstrable must fall behind that of the mythical! As if men do not make their mark out of any times! As if. The American poets are to enclose old and new; for America is the race of races.
Of them a bard is to be commensurate with a people. To him the other conti- nents arrive as contributions: he gives them reception for their sake and his own sake. Mississippi with annual freshets and changing chutes, Missouri and Columbia and Ohio and Saint Lawrence with the Falls and beautiful masculine Hudson, do not embouchure where they spend themselves more than they embou- chure into him. The blue breadth over the inland sea of Virginia and Maryland, and the sea off Massachusetts and Maine, and over Manhattan Bay and over Champlain and Erie, and over Ontario and Huron and Michigan and Superior, and over the Texan and Mexican and Floridian and Cuban seas, and over the seas off California and Oregon, is not tallied by the blue breadth of the waters.
Of all nations, the United States, with veins full of poetical stuff, most need poets, and will doubtless have the greatest, and use them the greatest. Their Presidents shall not be their common referee so much as their poets shall. Of all mankind, the great poet is the equable man. Not in him, but off from him, things are grotesque or eccentric, or fail of their sanity.
Nothing out of its place is good, and nothing in its place is bad. He bestows on every object or quality its fit proportions, neither more nor less. He is the arbiter of the diverse, and he is the key. He is the equalizer of his age and land: he supplies what wants supplying, and checks what wants checking. If peace is the routine, out of him speaks the spirit of peace, large, rich, thrifty, building vast and populous cities, encouraging agriculture and the arts and commerce—lighting the study of man, the soul, immor- tality—federal, state or municipal government, mar- riage, health, free-trade, intertravel by land and sea—.
The greatest poet hardly knows pettiness or triviality. If he breathes into any thing that was before thought small, it dilates with the grandeur and life of the universe. He is a seer—he is individual—he is complete in himself: the others are as good as he; only he sees it, and they do not.
He is not one of the chorus—he does not stop for any regulation—he is the President of regulation. What the eyesight does to the rest he does to the rest. Who knows the curious mystery of the eyesight? The other senses corroborate themselves, but. The land and sea, the animals, fishes, and birds, the sky of heaven and the orbs, the forests, mountains, and rivers, are not small themes: but folks expect of the poet to indicate more than the beauty and dignity which always attach to dumb real objects,—they expect him to indicate the path between reality and their souls.
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