Walt Whitman: Poet of Democracy

Walt Whitman: Poet of Democracy

Walt Whitman: Poet of Democracy

Walt Whitman: Poet of Democracy

Excerpt

'Ahead of all poets, pioneering into the wilderness of unopened life, Whitman. Beyond him, none. His wide strange camp at the end of the great high road. And lots of new little poets camping on Whitman's camping ground now. But none going really beyond. Because Whitman's camp is at the end of the road, and on the edge of a great precipice. Over the precipice, blue distances, and the blue hollow of the future. But there is no way down. It is a dead end.'

So wrote D. H. Lawrence in one of his 'Studies in Classic American Literature', and certainly there are few enough signs in the world to-day of humanity justifying Whitman's faith in a new order of comradeship. This in itself does not disprove the truth of the gospel which he preached, but it has strengthened the tendency to examine his life and personality very critically.

If he failed to point a way through to the future which he so exultantly affirmed, was it through some flaw in his own nature which prevented him from grounding his desires sufficiently in reality? Was he in fact the super-egoist his detractors have suggested, and as such incapable of consummating that marriage between the idea and the thing, of which real art and brotherhood are born? Was he, with all his physicality, a sort of ghost who, in his longing to merge himself in everything, really found himself in nothing?

In the following critical biography I have set out to answer such questions as these. And in studying Whitman, equally as a man of a curious temperament, a mystic, and a democratic pioneer, I have tried to reveal the truth which lies between the eulogies of the early 'good grey poet' school and the strictures of some recent critics, the severest of whom have dismissed him contemptuously as a vociferous fraud. Whitman was so loose and voluminous a writer, and so much material his accumulated about his life, that the problem of reducing him to some sort of shape is, as John Addington Symonds found many years ago, almost insoluble.

It was not for nothing that he boasted:

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