Page images
PDF
EPUB

Walt Whitman

MAY 31

WALT WHITMAN

The four authors thus far spoken of have been familiar to all readers of current literature. Poe, Longfellow, and Irving are known to every one who has looked over a school reader, and Read's “Sheridan's Ride” has been recited in every schoolhouse in the union. But probably to most of our subscribers Walt Whitman is only a name; very likely few could recite a single poem of his, or even give the title of one. Most of them associate his name with something which he supposed to be poems and called “Leaves of Grass”; if they have learned to characterize them at all it is to quote his own description of his poetry as a “barbaric yawp”, and if they remember any verse it is “I loafe and invite my soul ". If this article gives to such readers some realizing idea of the place which Walt Whitman really occupies in the literary horizon it will be worth to them the price of the volume.

I Walt Whitman is a poet of whom one cannot afford to be ignorant. John Burroughs looks upon him as the one mountain thus far in our literary landscape.

Emerson declared that “Leaves of Grass” was the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America had yet contributed?.

Thoreau thought the " Leaves” worth all the clergyman in the country for preaching!

Stedman, who is by no means a blind worshiper of his, says of our living poets he thinks him the most sure of an intermittent remembrance hereafter, if not of a general reading, and adds :

Both instinct and judgment, with our Greek choruses in mind, and Pindar, and the Hebrew bards, long since led me to number him among the foremost lyric and idyllic poets.

Richard Watson Gilder says :

Place Walt Whitman's poetry in the corner-stone of this nation, let some evolution of nature overthrow these United States, and then let that poetry

Associated with Poe in Foreign Eyes 139

be found, and from the lines will rise up a picture of our times such I believe as can nowhere else be found.

II Stedman also points out that Poe was one

of the first to lead a rebellion against formalism, commonplace, and the spirit of the bourgeois, and says :

In this movement Whitman is his countertype at the pole

opposite from that of EDGAR ALLAN POE, 1809-49

art; and hence they justly are picked out from the rest of us and associated in foreign mindse.

Symonds said “Leaves of Grass" made a man of him ; Stevenson said it dispelled a thousand illusions ; Mrs. Gilchrist said it enabled her to find her own soul. Edward Dowden wrote to him in 1871 :

We none of us question that yours is the clearest and sweetest and fullest American voice.

William Morris said :
I look upon him as one of the men * * * without

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »