Topic 53A – Novel, tale and poetry in the united states. H. Melville, e.a. poe and w. Whitman

Topic 53A – Novel, tale and poetry in the united states. H. Melville, e.a. poe and w. Whitman

He was born in 1819 in Brooklyn. Whitman left school at 11 to work in different jobs. Office boy, for a doctor, in the printing office of a newspaper.

By fifteen, his family moved to Long Island, and Walt was on his own. He reached physical and personality maturity very early.

He attended to debating societies and the theatre, and his rich fantasy was fueled by numberless romantic novels. he knew Sir Walter Scott novels and wrote conventional poems and short stories for Mirror, one of the best Manhattan newspapers. One of his stories prophetically culminated with the dream of writting “a wonderful and ponderous book”.

When he was 17 he moved to Long Island with his family. He worked as a teacher, innovative in the classroom but unwilling to fulfill the role of teacher outside it. His apparent laziness, his refusal to do farm work outraged his father.

At 21 he returned to Manhattan, where he begins a political career speaking at Democratic rallies, and publishes stories in the Democratic Review, the magazine of the democratic party. As a democrat he justify the Mexican War. He was an enthusiast of American territorial expansion, and in the peopling of the new world with a noble race. However by 1848 he was fired from the Eagle, the newspaper of which he was an editor for having become a free soiler, (opposed to the acquisition of more slave territory).

All through this period he attends operas, hearing the greatest singers of the time. He remarked opera as one of the great inspirations for the writing of Leaves of grass.

He had a double set of friends, the roughs and the artists, he moved from ones to others but hardly ever mixed them.

During the war of secesion, he works as a volunteer in military hospitals as a wound dresser. Looking older than his age (only in his early forties), he became a benevolent father for the men. Some critics have seen his experience in the hospital as a sublimation of his homosexual feelings.

Always self-taught, he becomes almost an expert in Egiptology, (egiptian museum of Broadway and his propietor). He studies astronomy. From these studies he obtains the information that later will use in the cosmic concepts of leaves of grass. He writes down his comentaries on the margins of the articles from the greeatest British quarterlies and monthlies. In this comentaries he developes his ideas about aesthetics and pantheism.

In 1855 he publishes “his wonderful and ponderous book”, leaves of grass.

The genteel society finds the book irreverent and obscene

Whitman predicates a religious liberation, a direct contact of man with God, apart from creeds, religious and churches, and by means of sensuality:

Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch´d from

The scent of these armpits aroma finer than prayer,

This head more than churches, bibles and all the creeds.

The poem is full with allusions and invitations to sexual freedom.

One of the parts of the book, Children of Adam, is especially explicit with respect to homosexuality:


Even Emerson, one of the persons who would be supposed to respect Whitman´s choices and literary freedom, tried to convince him to remove that part from Leaves of grass.


We have said that trascendentalists like Hawthorne or Emerson tried to capture “that which is beneath the seeming”. Whitman goes a step further, and realices that that mistery they try to seize is not beneath the seeming, beneath reality, but it is reality itself:

Ejemplo paumanok 10.

It is the pantheistic view, common in oriental philosophy, by which God is the Universe and the Universe is God. From this point of departure, the poet extends his arms in an embrace that joins him with the whole humanity:

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

All the men ever born are also my brothers.

This pantheistic view makes the book resemble some of the passages of Indian sacred literature:

I am the rite, the ofrenda, the (BAGHAVAD GHITA)

, of Heraclito: God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace,hartura and hunger.

The book also refers to that mistery, that unnameable impulse that animates the matter, a similar idea is found in the tao (way) of taoists.

I do not know it –it is without name- it is a word unsaid

It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol.

It is not chaos or death –it is form, union, plan- it is eternal life- it is happiness.

The tao that can be expresed is not the eternal tao

The name that can be pronounced

Is not its real name

Tao is the secret depth common to every being

The book is intended as a message to all the people in the world. He makes a salutation to the people of America and of the rest of the world.

He addresses even to the future readers of the book. In Full of life, now, he addresses to the reader of the book, somebody who hasn´t been born yet. Also in Whoever you are holding me now in hand.

Leaves of grass is intended to be the chant of a great collective individual, popular, male or female: as he said in Complete writings.

The book is also a celebration of his country, a chant of endless faith in the people of America, of the power of progress (PAUMANOK), of growing cities. Oppositely to other writers, he saw the territorial expansion and the industrial and economic growing of US as something benefical and prosperous. (PAUMANOK).

The book has a remarkable intention of comprise, of address all the universe. This is achieved by enumeration, of places, jobs, animals, plants. Also the reunion of sets of works that make an impression of globality, of no exclusion: man and woman, old and young, country and city, sea and land,

Birth: The little one sleeps in its craddle

Reproduction: The youngster and the red-faced girl turn aside up the bushy hill

Death: The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bedroom