Walt Whitman

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Walt Whitman In parting with traditional poetic formalities, Walt Whitman alleviated a burden that impeded his ability to achieve full poetic expression. To Whitman, the strict boundaries that formal meter, structure, and rhyme imposed set limits on his stylistic freedom. This is not to say that these limits prevented Whitman from conveying his themes. Rather, they presented a contradiction to which Whitman refused to conform. In Whitman’s eyes, to meet these formal guidelines one would also have to sacrifice the ability to express qualities and passion of living men. Thus, Whitman contested traditional poetic protocol because it added a layer of superficiality that concerned itself with creating perfect rhythmical, metrical, and structural poetry. It was this end that bothered Whitman, for he believed that each word in a poem should serve only one purpose: "to harmonize with the name, nature, and drift of the poem". To understand exactly what characteristics of traditional poetic rules posed such problems for Whitman, we must establish a working definition of what this means. Traditional poetic rules are those determined through the history of British poetry . This statement in itself leaves much latitude for interpretation. For the sake of comparison, generalizations must be made. First of all, traditional British poetry adhered to a specific meter, a common example being the iambic foot (unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). Whatever the chosen meter, these patterns were more or less consistent throughout the course of the poem. Similarly, in a traditional British poem, it was desired that each of the lines have the same amount of feet (for example the Shakespearean sonnet written in iambic... ... middle of paper ... ...yle? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, he pioneered a new tradition in American literature, a tradition which influence continues to be felt in modern literary circles (one being modern day English classes across the country). Yet, his ‘divine style’ is not new. Its roots can be traced to many classical cultures, and eastern cultures that span the globe. However, it remains to be said that Whitman led a personal crusade against what he believed was an ornamental style. Whether motivated by thirst for publicity (Whitman was somewhat of a public celebrity in his day), true literary idealism, or both, Whitman forged his own literary style to convey his themes of the ‘living’ individual, free from any constrains of formal poetry. This freedom of thought, this unpredictability of action, has made Walt Whitman a quintessential example of American individualism.

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