Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Walt Whitman did



Loathe him or not, Walt Whitman heightened our sense of the spoken word and prepared the ground of poetry that would slough off the tired, oppressive, once-revolutionary techniques of generations past. Whitman's reputation rests on perhaps a few dozen poems from the thousands he wrote , butand it is those few dozen poems that galvanized generations after him to set their own terms, standards, conditions. it is that latter tradition that got my attention, and it is the one that recognized the musical power of a cadence not so contrived in it's elevated aspiration. I can understand an appreciation of the old masters --Shakespeare and Shelley knock me out each time I consider their work--but I prefer a poetry that is involved in the current zeitgeist and which conceives a sense of wonder (above and beyond what mere senses alone can convey) that is not merely a grandiloquent
nostalgia.

1 comment:

  1. I think Whitman also captured a particular shift that happened in the country around the Civil War, a sense of both possibility and doom. I don't think Menand's The Metaphysical Club talks about Whitman, but it does describe how the war transformed intellectual life in America and haunted those who lived through it. Lessons I'm afraid the country may have to relearn, but which those who care to can hear in Whitman's staggering lines.

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