Walt Whitman – Poetic Realist
Walt Whitman, one of the great American poets of the 19th and 20th centuries, was inspired to further his passion and talent for writing by what some would refer to as a call to action, by the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson, known in his time as an “American Transcendentalist” writer, called poets of the mid 1800s into action with his essay entitled: “The Poet.” The fact that Walt Whitman, considered a realist poet, was inspired in part by this transcendentalist perfectly illustrates the constant progression of literary styles of that time. It seems through his poetry that Whitman desired to take his writing a step further than was traditionally done. He stepped successfully into realism, perhaps without readers even noticing at first that he was in part pioneering a new literary movement.
To understand how Whitman transitioned into realism, one must first understand transcendentalism. The Sanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Transcendentalism as:
“…an American literary, political, and philosophical movement of the early nineteenth century….operatted with the sense that a new era was at hand…critics of their contemporary society for its unthinking conformity, and urged that each person find, in Emerson’s words, ‘an original relation to the universe…”
This makes clear that not only was Emerson calling the next generation of writers to action, he was demanding deeper thought from his readers. Whitman evolves this transcendentalist style into his own form, later defined as realism, by calling his readers to a deeper stream of thought, and then relating his own deeper thoughts to the reader and the world around him. Whitman also expresses a realist mentality on issues that are norma...
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...t simply for poetry’s sake, but for describing his life and his world.
• Baym, Nina & Levine, Robert. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 8th Edition Volume 2”. New York/London: W.W. Norton & Company 2013. Print
• Whitman, Walt. “Song Of Myself.” Retrieved from: Norton Anthology of American Literature. 2013. Print: Pages 24-66
• Whitman, Walt. “The Wound Dresser.” Retrieved from: Norton Anthology of American Literature, 2013. Print: Pages 71-73
• Whitman, Walt. “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Retrieved from: Norton Anthology of American Literature, 2013. Print:Pages 73-78
• “Transcendentalism” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website, April 10, 2014 www.plato.sanford.edu/entries/transcendentalism/