Walt Whitman Essay Questions

Walt Whitman Essay Questions-73
Before looking at specific poetic examples, however, it is important to understand Whitman's use of the direct address in a more historical setting.Whitman's personal you can be directly linked to the journalistic work of his earlier years. [using] caressing tones designed to cultivate a bond of familiarity between reader, editor, and journal" (107).

Before looking at specific poetic examples, however, it is important to understand Whitman's use of the direct address in a more historical setting.Whitman's personal you can be directly linked to the journalistic work of his earlier years. [using] caressing tones designed to cultivate a bond of familiarity between reader, editor, and journal" (107).And, just as Whitman's extremely human "I" takes on a myriad of personas, so does the addressee of his poetry.

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Ezra Greenspan notes, "The journalistic style of intimate address to the reader was extremely common in the midcentury years. Indeed, directly addressing the "gentle reader" was also common among prose authors of the time. the engagement of the reader was more dynamic and lasting than it was with his major contemporaries, and more sincere and serious than with journalistic usage" (109).

Writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Linda Brent (aka Harriet Jacobs) often spoke directly to their readers, or in the very least made generalized appeals to their moral sensibilities. Whitman's poetry exuded more power than the works of his peers, both journalistically and literarily, in major part because of the way he approached his audience.

He had faith in their ability to read and understand the goals of his poems. In assuming intelligence, Whitman assumed the reader's ability to synthesize unique thoughts and the desire for further knowledge.

He did not, however, always assume a completely knowledgeable reader, particularly when it came to the more universal, spiritual aspects of life.

Numerous reworkings and revisions were integral in creating every edition of Leaves of Grass as Whitman attempted to reach every reader most effectively.

Yet at the same time that Whitman intended to address such a wide ranging audience, he also made certain assumptions about that readership.

In particular, "Song of Myself" repeatedly poses such questions to the addressee.

At various times, the speaker asks such things as, "Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

The device was a way of connecting to the literary audience. It is important to understand that Whitman saw his readers as just that: an active audience.

In fact, many of his poems had their root in public lectures that Whitman gave. Carroll Hollins notes that the unique aspects of Whitman's poetry were made possible "chiefly because he went from plans for oratory to poetry without giving up the immediacy of the speech act: present tense, first person (as speaker), second person (as audience), the illocutionary force of a message" (96; emphasis added).

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