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Whitman Essay Research Paper Perhaps the most

Whitman Essay, Research Paper Perhaps the most basic and essential function of poetry is to evoke a particular response in the reader. The poet, desiring to convey on emotion or inspiration, uses the imagination to create a structure that will properly

Whitman Essay, Research Paper

Perhaps the most basic and essential function of poetry is to evoke a particular response in the reader. The poet,

desiring to convey on emotion or inspiration, uses the imagination to create a structure that will properly

communicate his state of mind. In essence he is attempting to bring himself and the reader closer, to establish a

relationship. William Carlos Williams contends that “art gives the feeling of completion by revealing the oneness

of experience” (194) This argument relies on the precept that art is reality is not nature or a reflection of nature

but a completely original creation. And additionally, that art is holistic, where one can experience the whole of

reality through a particular. A poet’s task is to write poetry that the reader can identify with, something congruent

with the thoughts of those he is writing for (or to). If this can be accomplished, a connection is established, and

poetry can act as a catalyst to initiate the imagination. In my first paper this semester I argued that Whitman uses

sexual imagery as a rhetorical tool to arouse the reader. The result of this is congruent emotions within poet and

reader that demonstrate an effective use of tone, through which Whitman can address the reader. “The mystic

deliria, the madness amorous, the utter abandonment,/ (Hark close and still what I now whisper to you” (77).

Whitman is specking directly to the reader, through an all-encompassing god-like persona. In “Song of Myself”

Whitman reinvents himself as all of reality, and through the use of tone and imagery (shot establishes a

relationship) draws the reader into his world. Williams’ poetry is an attempt to establish a communion, of sorts,

with the reader, as well. His poetry is an exploration of momentary images, a jagged journey through personal

perception, that the reader can relate to. Williams’ diction and visual presentation of words resists the artificial;

his poetry has a rhythm that is natural and American, a gregarious appeal to the common man. In Spring and All

Williams creates a persona that is appealing, establishing a relationship and affecting the reader. Both Whitman

and Williams create a harmony between themselves and the reader that suggests the universality of experience.

The creation of an acceptable persona is essential to Whitman’s poetic program. In “Song of Myself” this is

accomplished through a congenial style that consists of unbridled enthusiasm, a friendly voice; an image emerges

of Whitman shouting at the reader, saying “Look what I’ve discovered!”: “Stop this day and night with me and

you shall possess the origin of all poems,/ You shall possess the good of the earth and sun” (25). His poetry is

often conversational, lacking a highly structured form. From the beginning of “Song of Myself” it is clear that the

poem is not merely a static, decorative creation, but that it is an act of communication between the poet and

reader. When Whitman writes “what I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good

belongs to you” (23), he implies a meeting of minds; not only is he going to address us but he is going to

persuade us’ because, he argues, we are all the same. He establishes a persona by not only speaking to us, but

for us. Whitman becomes one with his audience, the American people’ by presenting himself as the “archetypal

average American” (xxvii). The persona that one senses emerging from Williams in Spring and All is a justified

arrogance, a writer that will completely ignore convention in order to establish a tone. His mixture of verse and

prose suggests a pragmatic technique, a willingness to use whatever means necessary to connect with the reader.

In “Flight To the City,” he explores imaginative associations connected with the night sky, and follows it with the

statement, “So long as the sky is recognized as on association” (187). He speaks to the reader with sincerity,

with an enthusiasm that often descends into madness: If I could say what is in my mind in Sanscrit or even Latin I

would do so. But I cannot. I speak for the integrity of the soul and the greatness of life’s inanity; the formality of

its boredom; the orthodoxy of its stupidity. Kill! Kill! let there be fresh meat . . . (179) Spring and All is a map of

Williams’ imagination, a collection of poems cemented by “prose” explanation. He wants to leave no doubt about

what he is expressing, presenting himself as his own critic. Like Whitman, the reader becomes part of Williams’

persona through an expression of the universality of thought, an “approximate co-extension with the universe.”

For Williams the reader would ideally enter the world of his poem so completely as to become lost, having no

separate identity from that of the poet. In the imagination, we are henceforth (so long as you read) locked in a

fraternal embrace, the classic caress of author and reader. We are one. Whenever I say “I” I mean also “you.”

(178) To accomplish this the poet must evoke in us the ability to identify with the external world, and

consequently the world of his poem. Williams’ use of imagery encourages on attentiveness of imagination within

the reader. In “Spring and All,” he describes the creation of images in the mind, within a lifeless wasteland: “One

by one objects are defined-/ It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf . . . rooted, they/ grip down and begin to awaken”

(183). The image of the leaf becomes a metaphor for the growth of an image within the mind. What Williams is

calling for is no less than a reconnection with the external world – a simple response to a simple image. In “The

Red Wheelbarrow” even metaphor seems absent. Williams is concerned with the basic creation of an image; his

poetry is a sort of minimalism, containing only the essentials – a very concrete image that will convey a tone. In

“The Red Wheelbarrow,” the poet presents a single image: The setting is probably a farm. The Red

Wheelbarrow is stark; it is a bright color, distinct, man-made. The chickens are white, indistinct, insubstantial,

auxiliary. It has just rained: there is a sense of rebirth, new life. The tone may be summarized as clarity, newness,

affirmation of reality. And “so much depends upon” (224) this image. Williams creates images that are easy to

convey yet profoundly substantial. They are not really metaphors, but through their “realness” suggest the oneness

or congruity of reality. Whitman’s presentation of the external world is an effort to create images that are

democratic in their nature, encompassing the whole through particulars. Williams writes, Whitman’s proposals are

of the same piece with the modern trend toward imaginative understanding of life. The largeness which he

interprets as his identity with the least and the greatest about him, his “democracy” represents the vigor of his

imaginative life. (199) In “Song of Myself” Whitman presents images of everyday life in America. Like Williams,

he possesses an acute sense of the moment. Whitman perceives the external world and distinctly portrays it: “His

glance is calm and commanding, he tosses the slouch of his hot away from his forehead,/The sun falls on his

crispy hair and mustache, falls on the black of his polished and perfect limbs” (33). In this image Whitman

conveys a common American, confident and determined, strong. The image is crisp and distinct. It is not a

metaphor, but an example. It is a particular image of America, representative of the whole. Through this image,

and multiple other images -catalogues of distinctly American portrayals, appropriately diverse scenes of a

democracy – Whitman suggests that all people are involved in continually creating and sustaining America. The

typical reader of “Song of Myself” sees himself in the poem. Whitman’s choice of imagery suggests that it is in

everyday life that democracy exists, that on attention to the moment of existence (any moment} reveals a

universality. Finally, Whitman identifies himself with all he observes: What is commonest, cheapest, nearest,

easiest, is Me. Me going in for my chances, spending for vast returns, Adorning myself to bestow myself on the

first that will take me. “Song of Myself” is an appeal to the common man, to see himself in the poem, to see

himself in all. In a 1962 interview with the Paris Review Williams remarks on the importance of rhythm in his

poetry. His career was a search for an idiom that is a distinct reflection of the American pattern or style of

speech. (159-185) His early poems, such as those found in Spring and All, lack traditional metre, but still convey

to the reader a sense of rhythm. In the Avenue of Poplars, Williams writes, “He who has kissed/ a leaf/ need

look no further-/I ascend/ through/ a canopy of leaves/and at the same time/I descend/for I do nothing unusual . .

.” (228-9). The rhythm of this is subtle and beautiful; it exists but is essentially invisible to the reader. In other

words, the rhythm is not so pronounced as to imply artificial structure (as in iambic pentameter, for instance).

This poem exhibits what Williams called the variable foot – its meter varies in order to be true to speech.

According to Williams, a poet must escape the “complicated ritualistic forms designed to separate the work from

‘reality’ – such as rhyme, meter as meter and not as the essential of the work, one of its words” (l89). Williams’

meter suggests a clarity and preciseness of thought, an unencumbered directness. Often, the rhythm in Williams’

poetry depends on its visual appearance. In “The Red Wheelbarrow,” the eye perceives four small, distinct

stanzas, with four words each. Each stanza has three words on the first line and one on the second; there is a

minimalistic uniformity. There is no doubt that the form of this poem heightens the sense of its tone, but the actual

effect defies definition. The subtlety of the visual and auditory rhythm in the poem parallels the subtlety of its

imagery. If the image is directly conveyed from Williams’ mind to reader’s mind, then so is the rhythm. An

exploration of Williams’ use of rhythm naturally encourages a discussion of his use of prose. In Spring and All, he

writes that “The nature of the difference between what is termed prose on the one hand and verse on the other is

not to be discovered by a study of the metrical characteristics of the words as they occur in juxtaposition” (229).

In other words, meter is not the essential factor in distinguishing between verse and prose. Williams concludes

that poetry and prose are aspects of the same art, and each becomes more distinct as the meter becomes more

or less substantial. William uses prose as a practical mean of accomplishing what poetry can not in Spring and

All. It is a way of clarify and convey information about an idea or emotion already expressed through poetry.

There is no doubt that the rhythm of Whitman’s verse is more pronounced than that of Williams. It suggests the

more traditional, but it is clear that Whitman is willing to break with form when desired, slipping toward prose:

“Houses and rooms are full of perfumes,/ the shelves are crowded with perfumes,/ I breath the fragrance myself

and know it and like it,/ The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it” (24) On the subject of

rhythm, Williams said that “Whitman was on the right track, but when he switched to the English intonation, and

followed the English method of recording the feet, he didn’t realize it was a different method, which was not

satisfactory to an American” (Plimpton, 169). This distinction that Williams makes between his own poetry and

Whitman’s suggests that the search for a culture idiom is crucial to the development of a viable poetic persona.

Whitman is successful in his appeal to a common American audience primarily through his use imagery, and the

true value of Williams’ poetry may be found in his extremely subtle, variable, and exquisite form. Both poets take

a pragmatic approach to their vocation, using whatever they need to successfully commune with their audience.

According to Williams, a poet must write about “things with which he is familiar, simple things – at the same time

to detach them from ordinary experience to the imagination” ( 197). This is the most obvious advice that a writer

can offer: “Write what you know.” And that is what Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams do, as well as

writing what their audience knows. In other words, both establish a relationship with their readers by appealing

to a sense of the familiar and ordinary, “that life becomes actual only when it is identified with ourselves”.

Whitman uses imagery that acts as examples of American culture, a framework in which Americans can identify.

Williams uses simple images of simple things, and a natural rhythm that seem to directly reflect his own thought

processes, that of a modern American. The techniques of both authors create a distinctive poetic persona. The

result is a substantial relationship between author and reader suggesting and providing common experience.

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