I usually attempt to remain unbais in my presentation of the authors, texts, events and ideas that we discuss in class – however, I cannot do so when it comes to Whitman. I love Walt Whitman. As we study his poetry in class I hope you can come to appreciate him as well – not just his style and the innovations that he brought to American poetry, but also for the message that his poetry contains.
Walter “Walt” Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. His work was very controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described as obscene for its overt sexuality.
In class we will be analyzing Whitman’s poem “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” and selection stanzas from “Song of Myself”. Please note, “Song of Myself” is essentially the American epic – almost 60 stanzas, so you will only be reading parts of it (though I encourage you to read it all on your own!).
Whitman has the distinction of being one of the only American writer who, due to his long life publishing, is legitimately placed in two literary time periods – Transcendentalism and Realism. His early works, specifically Leaves of Grass, are obviously influenced by Emerson and the ideals of Transcendentalism, but as he aged and the politics of the Civil War took center stage in America, his style slowly changed and adapted to reflect the new literary tropes of the time. We will be reading early and later works of Whitman to help you observe the change in his style.
Additionally, there is a fantastic documentary by the PBS Program ‘The American Experience’ that devles into Whitman the poet in depth. For those of you that enjoy these poems or want to know more about Whitman in general, I would suggest watching it!