American Influences Of Walt Whitman Essay Research

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American Influences Of Walt Whitman Essay, Research Paper American Influences of Walt Whitman In his poems and life, Walt Whitman celebrated the human spirit and the human body. He sang the praises of democracy and marveled at the technological advances of his era. His direct poetic style shocked many of his contemporaries. This style, for which Whitman is famous, is in direct relation to several major American cultural developments. The development of American dictionaries, the growth of baseball, the evolution of Native American policy, and the development of photography all played a part and became essential components of Whitman’s poetry. Walt Whitman was an avid reader of dictionaries, which he realized were the compost heap of all English-language literature. It was

the place where all the elements of literature were preserved, as well as the place out of which all future literature would grow. The nation’s unwritten poems lay dormant in that massive heap of words. Whitman’s own poem, “This Compost,” played on the etymological meaning of the word “compost” with the word “composition”. The denotative meaning of both of these words is “to place or set together”. To compose is to put together in a new form. To compost is to take apart what was put together, and to break down an old form so that it would supply the parts for a new form (Folsom 15). Whitman was living during a time when it was possible to watch the growth and expansion of the American language, and to see the increasing distance between it and its British

source (Allen 53). Whitman was most familiar with the 1847 edition of Webster’s Dictionary. He depended on this one as he developed his notions of language and as he wrote the first poems of Leaves of Grass. It is in this version of the dictionary that we most clearly find the definitions of words that would become keys for Whitman’s poetic projects (Folsom 14). For Whitman, in certain ways, American culture became a language experiment. His fascination in culture was grounded in what various activities were doing to the language. Whitman was interested in how they were giving America new words, and new ranges of self-expression (E.H. Miller 174-178). It was through continually expanding dictionaries that Walt Whitman learned about the possibilities of an infinite language

from which a new kind of poetics could emerge. When writers mention Walt Whitman’s name, the subject of baseball naturally seems to pop up. They have sensed how the game was related to Whitman. Baseball, as we know it, was born in 1845 with the formation of the Knickerbockers Club in New York. It was then that the first recognizable baseball rules were set down in writing. As baseball was born, it immediately was bound up in Whitman’s mind with qualities he would endorse his whole life: vigor, manliness, and al fresco health. In 1855, when Whitman’s “Song of Myself” was first printed, baseball was still very new. It was clearly one of the distinctive elements of the American experience that Whitman found worth absorbing into the song of himself, even though the term

“baseball” had not yet made its way into the dictionaries. At various times over the years, Whitman would extol many other sports, but there was only one sport he would return to throughout his life, and that was baseball. To him, baseball was an activity with its own built-in localized slang, and its own essential connections to American culture; a game conceived, developed, and originally played only in the United States of America. Clearly for Whitman, baseball was the sport that coincided with the best aspects of the American character. In it he saw the emergence of national sport–one that had a rhythm and movement distinctly American. In this game, he saw the possibilities for democratic crowds and brotherhood that he would celebrate in his poetry (Folsom 30-53). Three