Walt Whitman & Opera

Walt Whitman & Opera

Walt Whitman & Opera

Walt Whitman & Opera

Excerpt

Walt Whitman's method in the construction of his songs is strictly the method of the Italian Opera."

So wrote Walt Whitman himself in the Saturday Press of January 7, 1860, answering attacks upon the poem now known as "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." Many years later he confided to his friend, John Townsend Trowbridge, "But for the opera I could never have written Leaves of Grass." On another occasion the poet spoke similarly to Horace L. Traubel, his most intimate friend in his last years. "My younger life was so saturated with the emotions, raptures, uplifts, of such musical experiences that it would be surprising indeed if all my future work had not been colored by them. A real musician running through Leaves of Grass -- a philosophermusician -- could put his finger on this and that anywhere in the text no doubt as indicating the activity of the influences I have spoken of."

In spite of such pointed testimony, however, remarkably few of Whitman's critics have attempted to "put a finger on this and that" in his poetry or to treat the subject of his passion for opera in any detail at all. To be sure, all the biographers have mentioned his attendance at opera, but only De Selincourt, in 1914, and Canby, in 1943, have offered critical comment on the importance of the subject to an understanding of the origin and nature of Whitman's poems.

Other brief and somewhat generalized discussions have been presented from time to time. In 1925, Louise Pound called attention to some of the more obvious relationships between Whitman's poetry and his love for opera. Three years later the French critic, Jean Catel, referred briefly to opera as a formative influence on Whitman's poetic work. In 1937, Clifton J. Furness lectured before the Boston Chapter of the Special Libraries Association on the topic Whitman and Music. The printed account of the talk . . .

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