Walt whitman (1819 – 1892)


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Walt whitman (1819 – 1892)

  1. 1. Week Fourteen Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892) ‘ Song of Myself’ and the Idea of America
  2. 2. Background <ul><li>Born in Long Island, New York, into a Quaker family. </li></ul><ul><li>Lived through the American Civil War, and was fascinated with the idea of re-evaluating the national character of his beloved nation. </li></ul><ul><li>Self-published Leaves of Grass in its first edition in 1855, but would continue revising it until his death in 1892. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Background <ul><li>Whitman’s vivid, practically meterless style is considered to have re-invigorated American poetry, while articulating an Idea of America that resounded throughout his troubled times. </li></ul><ul><li>His approach has also proven highly influential for the most important Twentieth Century poets, from American modernists such as William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound to international luminaries like Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Transcendentalism <ul><li>Whitman’s work is said to be an extension of the concept of Transcendentalism, developed in New England in the early to mid-Nineteenth Century. </li></ul><ul><li>Among Transcendentalists' core beliefs was an ideal spiritual state that 'transcends' the physical and empirical and is only realized through the individual's intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Quotations <ul><li>&quot;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. To carry on the heave of impulse and pierce intellectual depths and give all subjects their articulations are powers neither common nor very uncommon.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ But to speak in literature with the perfect rectitude and insouciance of the movements of animals and the unimpeachableness of the sentiment of trees in the woods and grass by the roadside is the flawless triumph of art.&quot; </li></ul>
  6. 6. ‘ Song of Myself’ <ul><li>The key to ‘Song of Myself’ is in its construction of a ‘self’ beyond the usual boundaries, challenging Enlightenment individualism by questioning the relationship between the self and its environment. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Task <ul><li>Taking the section you are given, analyse the philosophical implications of Whitman’s construction of self and society, bearing in mind the following aspects: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Anti-individualism; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rejection of existing social structures; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reconfigured national unity and identity; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The collapse of the terms ‘I’ and ‘you’; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The insinuation of the reader into the poem; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Neo-Romantic vision of nature; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Conceptualisation of death. </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Whitman once said: &quot;The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.&quot; <ul><li>Read the first two pages of Barack Obama’s Inaugural Speech in the light of this statement and your reading of ‘Song of Myself’. </li></ul><ul><li>Discuss the ways in which elements of Whitman’s thinking have re-emerged in American socio-political discourse. </li></ul>