missvirginia on Sep 1st 2009
Whitman seems to strive to create a very patriotic, and almost familial, relationship with the reader in his preface from 1885. It makes the reader feel like Whitman is trying to encompass all that is American, natural, earthy, and true to the culture of 1885-America. He mentions the “blue breadth over the inland sea of Virginia and Maryland and the sea off Massachusetts and Maine and over Manhattan bay and over Champlain and Erie and over Ontario and Huron…” He continues for about 9 more lines describing the geography, atmosphere, plants, etc. He rants and raves, furiously in love with America and desperately wanting the reader to grasp onto this love and be carried away as well. One of the ending lines is, “The soul of the largest and wealthiest and proudest nation may well go halfway to meet that of its poets…The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” Obviously, Whitman is vying for the title of Poet Laureate of the United States of America.
In his patriotic, maybe cheesy, stance, it is a good marketing strategy. Leaves of Grass was not a huge seller right off the bat, but I’m sure the readers who did flip through it felt connected, almost like they were doing a civic duty. In his last lines describing how a poet becomes the country and such, it’s empowering to a reader to read something that loyal. It creates an affirmation of the bond between citizen and country, but that citizen then becomes loyal to the writer as well. Loyalty is based upon relationship; when a poet/writer interjects a nationalistic relationship like Whitman seems to have done, he creates a fan base.
Song of Myself also does this, but not to the same exaggerated degree in mentioning all the HOME lakes on the Canadian border. Song of Myself is much more intimate, it describes complete scenes, like “In vain the buzzard houses herself with the sky, in vain the snake slides through the creepers and logs, in vain the elk takes to inner passes of the woods, in vain the razorbilled auk sails far north to Labrador…” In each of these lines a scene is played out, it is not so outstretched that it becomes kitschy or cheesy.
Overall, both were powerful, uplifting pieces. Song of Myself is obviously more self-absorbed, both for the reader and Whitman. It’s narcissistic because throughout the poem, I is a constant. The ending line is “I stop some where waiting for you”. And there is no period. There is no finality. To end on a narcissistic note, I think it is because in a relationship there is very rarely a complete end.
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