So Long! Walt Whitman's Poetry of Death

So Long! Walt Whitman's Poetry of Death

So Long! Walt Whitman's Poetry of Death

So Long! Walt Whitman's Poetry of Death

Synopsis

"Until now no one has studied as systematically the degree to which mortality informs Whitman's entire enterprise as a poet. So Long! devotes particular attention to Whitman's language and rich artistry in the context of the poet's social and intellectual milieus. We see Whitman (and his many personae) as a folk prophet announcing a gospel of democracy and immortality; pondering death in alternating moods of acceptance and terror; fantasizing his own dying and his postmortem selfhood; yearning for mates and lovers while conscious of fallible flesh; agonizing over the omnipresence of death in wartime; patiently awaiting death; and launching imaginary journeys toward immortality and godhood. By exploring Whitman's faith in death as a meaningful experience, we may understand better how the poet - whether personified as representative man, victim, hero, lover, or visionary - lived so completely on the edge of life." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The theme of death pervades the text and the subtext of Leaves of Grass. Although some of his contemporaries hailed Whitman as America's inspired poet of death and many of his death-saturated poems have earned critical acclaim and popular affection, this is the first book-length study to examine his treatment of death by considering the entire range of his poetry and the way his attitudes toward death define his career as an intellectual, a poet, and a person. This is also the first full-scale study to relate his developing views of death and his literary treatment of death to his social and intellectual milieu and to the wide-ranging contemporary debate about the meaning of death. We can fully appreciate Whitman's poetry of the material world or his poetry of the soul only when we comprehend how vitally these themes are entwined in his emotional and philosophical engagement with death. Neither an orthodox believer, a skeptic, or a philosopher, Whitman generally interprets death in terms of his experience and his intuitions, so his death-oriented poems tend to be personal and poignant. Although he treats death imaginatively and with a certain latitude, he will not view it as a total cessation of personal identity; rather, he interprets it as a momentous forward leap in the cycle of human advancement. Nor does he forget that his splendid body (about which he boasts in prose and verse) carries the seed of death; an unflagging awareness of death colors his treatment of all phases of life. Death is a vital component of his gospel of universal brotherhood and sisterhood, of his luminous vision of the progressive unfolding of the human race (particularly its American component), and of his profound spirituality. And it is a vital element in the yearning for love that permeates the poems.

Although he was acquainted with many of the scientific and religious movements of the age, Whitman could not accept the prevailing secular . . .

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