Whitman

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Very few people will contest that Walt Whitman may be one of the most important and influential writers in American literary history and conceivably the single most influential poet. However many have claimed that Whitman’s writing is so free form as evident in his 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass and Song of Myself that it has no style. The poetic structures he employs are unconventional but reflect his very democratic ideals towards America. Although Whitman’s writing does not include a structure that can be easily outlined, masterfully his writing conforms itself to no style, other then its own universal and unrestricted technique. Even though Whitman’s work does not lend itself to the conventional form of poetry in the way his contemporaries such as Longfellow and Whittier do, it holds a deliberate structure, despite its sprawling style of free association. When people say Whitman has no style, they are making a statement about his adherence to conventional standards of poetic form. Style, though, is something completely personal, not conventional. Whitman dared to go outside the conventional boundaries of poetic expression because he seldom followed the standards in rhyme, meter, and stanza form. However, hasn’t every great poet changed the rules governing the creation of great art in some way or another? Without a doubt they have, that defines them as great poets and gives them style. Whitman’s greatness lies in his divergence from the norm, his individuality, not his strict adherence to the arbitrary rules of his predecessors. Whitman’s approach to poetry is a reflection of his thought. These thoughts are free and wild, and his typical run-on sentences and his endless litanies of people and places represent the thoughts trying to be conveyed. The overall effect of these run-on sentences provides the reader with a feeling of greatness and of freedom. All of the feelings that are evoked from Whitman’s style can be classified as quintessentially American democratic feelings. The belief that Whitman had no style would imply that Americans as a society have no style, a statement that not only Whitman but Emerson and Thoreau as well fought against through their writings. Whitman and Emerson fighting for the same cause is not coincidental, Whitman has often been viewed as the “child” of Emerson, his work being greatly influenced by Emerson. Whitman’s technique of looking at everything as a whole and always opposed to breaking up the whole can be linked to his belief of unity within our country and the reason why he took the Civil War extremely hard and personal.

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