Whitman's Interpretation of Emerson

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Whitman's Interpretation of Emerson

Walt Whitman was able to take the spark of an idea from Ralph Waldo Emerson and tend, nurture, and support it until the spark grew into a huge flame of something surprising and original - new American poetry. Whitman did not only learn from Emerson, but he also took Emerson's ideas and expanded them into something much more encompassing. Whitman was able to use Emerson's principles that are outlined in "The Poet" to springboard into something more expansive than Emerson was able to describe or create.

Emerson states in his 15th principle in "The Poet" that "there is no fact in nature that does not carry the whole sense of nature." To elaborate this claim Emerson states, "the distinctions which we make …disappear when nature is used as a symbol. Thought makes everything fit for use,"(Emerson Principle 15). Emerson is seeing nature as being a symbol. As a symbol, there are no taboos about what parts are nature can be explored and what part cannot. More specifically, even the most obscene, disgusting parts of nature can take on new meaning when they are used as symbols to represent such qualities as power or triumph. Therefore, there are no clear distinctions about what elements of nature represent; they can take on the meaning the poet gives to them. The poet becomes the one with the awesome power to give each aspect of nature a certain meaning depending on how the poet uses it in his work.

Walt Whitman embraces this power to use nature in his work "Song of Myself." As Emerson's principle outlined, Whitman was able to take images of nature and make them represent something surprising, new, and sometimes slightly obscene. Emerson discusses the idea of obscene images in nature taking on acc...

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...he Poet," Whitman was to take the ideas much further than Emerson did or possibly even imagined. From Emerson's statement that nature is a symbol and that all parts of it are fit for use, Whitman twisted and molded Emerson's statement until it made something new and exciting. What it made were new symbols that took innocent images and made them into something risqué. Furthermore, Whitman took Emerson's principles of natural symbols and applied it to human symbols. All of these things caused Whitman's poetry to break through to a new level of originality that clearly distinguished American poetry.

Works Cited

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "The Poet." Online Posting. Accessed 9 October 2001. <>.

Whitman, Walt. "Song of Myself." The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. Editor: Jay Parini. Columbia University Press, 1995. 186-193.
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