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Walt Whitman 1819 – 1892
A New American Poet
Leaves of Grass A spiritual autobiography Expanded and revised 9 times throughout Whitman’s life It “tells the story of an enchanted observer who says who he is at every opportunity and claims what he loves by naming it.” “this is no book/Who touches this touches a man” (Evler 349).
Leaves of Grass
“Too boldly new and strange to win the attention of reviews or readers who had fixed ideas about poetry” Wrote Emerson of it, “I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom…”(Evler 349).
Poetic Devices of Whitman
Alliteration Assonance Imagery Onomatopoeia Catalog Personification Metaphor
Consonance Parallel structure Repetition Anaphora (repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of consecutive lines or sentences)
Cadence Informal or slang; invented words Tone
Alliteration The repetition of the same or similar consonant sounds in words that are close together. It is used to create musical effects and to establish mood.
From “Song of Myself #1” “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
Assonance From “Song of Myself #1” “I loaf and invite my soul, I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”
The repetition of similar vowel sounds followed by different consonant sounds; especially in words that are close together.
Alliteration and Consonance Alliteration: The repetition of the same or similar consonant sounds at the beginning of words That are close together. Consonance: The repetition of like consonant sounds in the middle and end of words. Assonance: The repetition of similar vowel sounds.
Alliteration, Consonance, and Assonance are used to create musical effects and to establish Mood and tone.
From “Song of Myself #1” by Walt Whitman
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loaf and invite my soul, I lean and loaf at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass…”
The use of language to evoke a mental picture or a concrete sensation of a person, place, thing, or idea.
“Alone far in the wilds and mountains I hunt, Wandering amazed at my own lightness and glee, In the late afternoon choosing a safe spot to pass the night, Kindling a fire and broiling the fresh-killed game, Falling asleep on the gathered leaves with my dog and gun by my side.” Leaves of Grass #10
Simile and Metaphor Simile: Making a comparison between two unlike things using “like,” “as,” or “than.” Metaphor: Making the same comparison without the comparative language.
“Dreams” by Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow.
Personification Giving human qualities to animals or nonliving things Example: Time stood still. The car hugged the road.
The use of words whose sound imitates or suggests its meaning like buzz, bang, pow, zoom, clomp, etc.
This form of imagery appeals to the sense of hearing.
“The runaway slave came to my house and stopp’d outside,/ I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile…”
A list of people, things, or events Whitman uses long, descriptive lists to express “the voice of America.” “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,/ Those of mechanics…The carpenter singing…The mason singing…The boatman singing…The wood-cutter’s song…”
It’s All in the Way It’s Written Parallel Structure: The repetition of words or phrases that have similar grammatical structure From “Song of Myself #33” “…I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs,… I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs..”
Make It Sound Like Music Cadence: The natural, rhythmic rise and fall of language as it is normally spoken. It is not written to a particular, predictable meter of language. Free Verse: Poetry that does not conform to a regular meter or rhyme scheme. Walt Whitman was the first American poet to use free verse.
A Style All His Own Tone: A writer’s attitude toward a given subject. Tone is determined through a study of words and descriptions used by the author. Tone is dependent upon diction and style. “The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and loitering./ I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,/ I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” (“Song of Myself #52”).
A Few More Things Whitman used “chunky language” to enlarge the possibilities of American poetry. He used slang words or invented words like “Yawp” to reflect the depth of heart he hoped to express. In repetition he trumpeted America as a land of greatness, diversity, passion, and optimism. He wrote of a great America.
Leaves of Grass was evolved from 12 unnamed poems in A small collection to more than 383 in its final edition.
In Leaves of Grass Whitman wrote this collection of poetry as an epic, a great journey of the poet who is the hero. He is a hero of the future and all of his actions reflect a spiritual and sometimes physical journey across the landscape of America. Whitman “cajoles, and thunders; he chants, celebrates, chuckles, and caresses.”
“spills from his capacious American soul every dreg of unEnglishness, every sweet sound thumbing its nose at traditional subject matter and tone. Here is Samson pulling the house of literature down around his ears, yet singing in the ruins” (Evler 350).
“The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he absorbed it.” Walt Whitman
I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong. Tomorrow, I'll be at the table When company comes. Nobody'll dare Say to me, "Eat in the kitchen," Then. Besides, They'll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed-I, too, am America.
- Langston Hughes
“I, Too, Sing America” Reflection: Write a half page reflection about why you might have omitted a group/groups from your poem. Discuss their contribution, positive or negative, to your school.
OR Write a half page reflection on why you think Whitman might have left out a particular group in his poem.