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Does Walt Whitman appear to be on a quest? How does he present himself to his readers?
Walt Whitman was an American poet, who made history in virtue of his unique literary work. People remembered Walt Whitman for his exceptional worldview, for his perception of the world, for the way he represented his thoughts through his works, for innovation in literature, to be more specific, for usage of free verse. Although, originality of this personality made the whole world hear about him, and remember him, his personality as well as his literary work had been a topic of discussions for a long period of time. His creative work was not appreciated during his life, and his works and worldview was often criticized. However, time passed, and people understood that Walt Whitman and his contribution to world literature were great. It will be appropriate to have a closer look at what had been said about Walt Whitman and his creative work in order to understand the role this person played in human history.
As it was mentioned above, Walt Whitmans work was not appreciated during his lifetime. The researchers of his life and art confirm that his poetry was generally reviled, condemned by reviewers as obscene in content, deficient in diction, irregular in rhythm, and absent of rhyme (Loving, XI). Nevertheless, such harsh criticism did not reflect on the poet, and he continued to create new masterpieces of literature. He represented himself to his readers in different ways, what was not ordinary for the time he lived. The first appearance of one of his most famous books Leaves of Grass proves this fact. It is confirmed that the way of the poets representation of himself to the readers is noticeable from the first pages of the book. The fact is that Walt Whitman did not write his name on the first page of the book, as it was accepted in the society of poets of that time. He did in another way he used as his frontispiece an engraving of a daguerreotype of himself, one that was strikingly different than the usual representation of poets (Folsom). Doing in such a way, Walt Whitman tried to tell his readers and representatives of literary field that the name of the poet does not matter. There exist things, which are more important for a poet than a name. Real poet should be an ordinary person, whose preferred dress is informal, wearing a hat is acceptable, being outside is nice (Folsom). Such simple image of Walt Whitman represented a new relationship between the poet and reader, as they walk together (Folsom). However, not only appearance of the poet represented his individuality. The evidence of the fact that Walt Whitman was different from the other poets of his time can be found after his picture in the book in preface of Leaves of Grass. The researchers of his creative work confirmed that the preface could be perceived by the majority of people as perfect nonsense, because it is a succession of independent sentences, many of which are of striking truth and beauty, but still poorly cohesive (Price).
Great role in Walt Whitmans establishment as a poet was also played by his worldview. He is famous all over the world in virtue of his attitude to democracy, and desire to make society democratic. Ed Folsom, English professor of the University of Iowa, confirmed that Chinese researchers of Whitmans creative work appreciated his points of view and were excited with Whitmans democratic notions (Folsom). Moreover, the authors poems, which are full of democratic spirit, had great influence on German society, people of India and Nepal, and, of course, American population.
One more peculiarity, through which Walt Whitman represented himself to his readers, was his personal style of writing. Different poems of the writer cover different characteristics of his style. For example, the poem So Long!is a representation of a simple language, which the poet uses while writing the poem: his use of colloquial American language is fresh (Folsom). Another characteristic of personal style of Walt Whitman, which can be found in the poem So Long!,is that the poet addresses himself to the senses of his readers, making them feel what he wanted to say: O how your fingers drowse me, he says, as our fingers touch his words as we read; your pulse lulls the tympans of my ears, his words say as our wrists, resting on his page, ring with the rhythmic pulse of our blood (Folsom).
Certainly, one of the most important ways, in which Walt Whitman represented himself to his readers, was his way of writing. As it was mentioned above, Walt Whitman wrote free verses, and he is even considered to be the father of free verse. Let us consider several lines from his poem Miracles in order to understand his personal writing style:
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same (Whitman).
Although, one can notice that the word miracle is repeated at the end of the first and the second lines, and the word same ends the third and the fourth lines, it does not create a rhyme of the poem. The rhythm is also difficult to feel because every line includes different number of syllables. However, these very things make the poems of Walt Whitman free, and represent his unique style, which distinguishes him from the other poets of his time. These peculiarities of personal style of the poet were described by critics in the following way: Every word that falls from his mouth shows silent disdain and defiance of the old theories and forms. Every phrase announces new laws (Price, 9).
It is evident that Walt Whitman was not an ordinary poet of his time. Every aspect of his life was in the center of disputes his appearance, his behavior, his thoughts, his way of self-representation and his personal style of writing. Since Walt Whitman started to write, the opinions concerning his creative work separated. Some people criticized him, and told that one could not regard him as a real poet, that nothing of his style corresponded to the image of a poet of that time. The others noticed unique style of Walt Whitman, and admired his thoughts, beliefs, ideas and poems. Walt Whitman differed from the others in every aspect of his life and work, and this fact determined harsh criticism of his works. However, in spite of criticism, which was expressed concerning poems and style of Walt Whitman, one cannot deny that he greatly contributed to the development of literature all over the world. First of all, he is considered to be the father of free verse, which was used by numerous writers after his death. His ideas of democratic society attracted the researchers of his creative work and also influenced formation of worldviews of different writers as well as ordinary people. Taking into account unique personality of Walt Whitman and all his ideas, thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, peculiarities of writing style, which were inherited by the following generations of writers and poets, one can confirm that Walt Whitman was a great poet of the 19th century, who greatly contributed to the development of literature all over the world.