The Frailest Leaves: Whitman's Poetic Technique and Style in the Short Poem

The Frailest Leaves: Whitman's Poetic Technique and Style in the Short Poem

The Frailest Leaves: Whitman's Poetic Technique and Style in the Short Poem

The Frailest Leaves: Whitman's Poetic Technique and Style in the Short Poem

Synopsis

This book analyzes a vast portion of Whitman's corpus that has never been dealt with, collectively, before. In addition, it illuminates the connection between his poetic form and his concept of the distinctly suggestive role of the modern poet who addresses urgent themes and emotions through short takes that enlist, individually and collectively, the creative participation of readers. Finally, the book articulates relationships between Whitman's short poem technique and his broadest poetic, moral, and democratic aims.

Excerpt

Only slightly less famous than Whitman's democratic philosophy is his radical rejection of traditional prosody. in an 1880 interview he remarked,

...I have rejected the rhymed and blank verse. I have a particular abhorrence of blank verse, but I cling to rhythm; not the outward, regularly measured, short foot, long foot--short foot, long foot--like the walking of a lame man, that I care nothing for. the waves of the sea do not break on the beach every so many minutes; the wind does not go jerking through the pine trees, but nevertheless in the roll of the waves and in the soughing of the wind in the tree there is a beautiful rhythm. How monotonous it would become, how tired the ear would get of it if it were regular! (Bergman, Whitman on His Poetry 164)

This is not the only case of an inconsistency between Whitman's theoretical pronouncements about poetry and his actual poetic practice. Critics have long noted that many of Whitman's poems, particularly those written during the Civil War and after, approximate traditional accentual-syllabic meters. Yet there is also an element of truth in Whitman's statement about rhythm. Even when he wrote "traditionally," Whitman at his best was capable of using stanzas and meters subtly and skillfully, without being merely "monotonous."

This chapter examines Whitman's use of stanzaic forms and of accentual-syllabic meters in several poems written during and after the Civil War, with the aim of showing how--even in his more traditional poems-- he often avoided the "short foot, long foot" rhythm "like the walking of a . . .

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