WHITMAN AND THE VAGABONDIANS
HISTORIANS of American verse have not seriously considered Walt Whitman's influence on poets who wrote before 1912. While certain attitudes which could be due only to the Leaves of Grass have been acknowledged among the Vagabondians, Whitman is usually held back for the appearance of Carl Sandburg. Yet in the Nineties there were poets who were not satisfied with romantic themes and traditional forms. Whitman's name cropped up in many of their poems, especially for his glorification of the democratic man and the spirit of the western movement. Even the poets who did not hail Whitman as a Camerado were not indifferent; some pushed aside the outstretched hand and parodied his attitudes:
Sit down, young man!
I do not know you, but I love you with burning intensity,
I am he that loves the young men, whosoever and wheresoever they are or
may be hereafter, or may have been any time in the past,
Loves the eye-glassed literat, loves also and probably more the vendor of
clams, raucous-throated, monotonous-chanting,
Loves the Elevated Railroad employee of Mannahatta, my city;
I suppress the rest of the list of the persons I love, solely because I love you,
Sit down élève, I receive you.1
But for every parody there was a tribute poem from a group of poets who had accepted Whitman as their symbol of what an American poet should be and should do. Ernest Crosby had stated anew for them Whitman's concept of the poet's place:
The artist must embrace his lowliest fellow-man; in vain will he seek inspiration elsewhere.
The bard and the painter should be the head and right arm of the people;
What can we expect from Art when he lop these from the trunk.2
Crosby, recognizing the duty of the poet to write for the common man, placed himself in even greater debt to the themes and tech-