An iconic figure in the history of American literature, Walt Whitman was born on the 31st May 1819. Today his contribution and works in the poetic world have come to define sentimentalism, ambitions and some important experiences that Americans underwent in the 19th century. Even though he may have been politically inactive, his work had the will to display political views. Having survived through the civil war, he grew much affectionate perception on the nature and complexity of American politics. Whitmans view of America was that of a culturally diverse society that we currently witness as such this vision was mainly expressed in his poetic works.
For instance, the poem, passage to India was a real demonstration of idealism which withered a little during the abundance of the gilded age (Pannapacker, 2004). Through his poetic works, here was able to give an in-depth understanding of the actual America identity that was mainly circumvented the concept of independence, freedom of the masses and democratic space for all personal and political undertakings.
It is demonstrated during this American Renaissance, whereby philosophers and authors in the mold of Thoreau, Emerson gave a brief assessment of America's short history through their works and presented an overview of the concept of the national identity. Among them was Whitman who would take a radical stand in affirming that American identity was complex from a country's central principle of sovereignty and equality. It is clearly demonstrated in his poem, "Song of Myself" in which he emphasises to his readers that their lives were part and parcel of the very premise of democracy (Schramm, 2005).
To understand his life and perhaps how it may have had an important bearing on his personality, his poetic works, and view on the American society, it is widely reported that Whitman had a chaotic early childhood which prompted his bid to seek employment at the tender age of 11. He worked in a law firm as an errand boy and later served as an apprentice in and printer for Patriot newspaper. As such, his childhood escapades had a profound effect on his impressionable mind as he had quite an experience learning proper journalism and impeccable writing skills.
Though a little older than Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson lost his father at the age of eight and strived to make ends meet just as seen in the Whitman. Hes known to date as a philosopher of optimism in the 19th century and further a real champion of nature. His essay on self-confidence profoundly brought forth the concept of America identity.
As a lecturer, Emerson exhibited significant manifestation of a remarkable conversion that was distinct from the contemporary evangelical works. He had a greater sense of awareness that not only gave him a radical view, but further had a way of showing the masses that in as much as some level of progress have been made, the journey was still young, and confidence and focus would be critical to the attainment of the same.
Under his early works as a journalist, Whitman significantly developed under his editor, Samuel Clement in which he was able to amass valuable knowledge on the technical side of press printing which would later shape his efforts to publish his poem. It is from all these that he developed his strong views on the American identity. This paper, therefore, seeks to explore how Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson approached and represented American identity in their poetic works.
Leaves of the Grass remains to be one of the most influential literary works that Whitman undertook. In this work, it is full of imaginations commentary and making a reality the American identity. Considering himself an actual agent and supporter of democracy, he constructs a hierarchy with which he places himself at the helm and America below him, with the rest of the world being in a subordinate position.
Before it came to pass, Whitman had envisaged America to be top of the world, and at a time when slavery was common and democratic space for very limited, Whitman had imagined that the only things that could stop America from achieving the highest possible elevation in the world order are the lack of democratised institutions. Today, America by all accounts models the world's democratic standards and sits pretty at the top influencing every major decision within her jurisprudence.
America today is the center of individual freedom and democratic governance, Whitman in his works tries to bring a sense of American identity by looking around and getting inspired by his surrounding, he envisages a nation has all it takes to bask in the glory. His works give American an opportunity to learn from their pasts, cultures, and tendencies that may have a bearing on their future.
In his regard, Whitmans idea of the nation is that of a great poetic world in which the past, present and the future are connected in particular ways. As such, the belief of treating a country's fashionable merit must be in line with the wider literary of the present time (Pannapacker, 2004). Today we are treated to a more cautious America who has a great deal to many happenings from their past success and mishaps in equal measure.
Emerson in his work suggests that we have to be the givers to ourselves; we must at all cost strive to be independent through self-healing and not alienating ourselves from the world. His work poet, represent beauty, he is independent and standards at the centre everything. America as a nation believes in the independence of all entities within its premise. Emerson places America at the centre and control of everything around it, confident and optimistic about the future. Today, we see a more independent nation that is at the epicenter of the world power.
Ralphs work on the poet reveals a passionate, alive and healthy spirit in both plant and animals. All these entities are at their mercy to get such level of happiness. Such comes with equality and some sense of belonging. Ralph exhibits a new experience that is about to unfold, and there is optimism of a better and richer tomorrow. Ralph did a poem at a time when America was engulfed in slavery, so blinded were they, but within such despair, there were hopes of a better, happier tomorrow for the victims of slavery. America is in a place that things keep changing and it's been within their means that they can overcome as a nation. Take, for instance, the rise after the 9/11 attacks on the world trade centre and the efforts the country took to stand again in unity and strength.
In a passage, section 10 of Song of Myself, Whitman seeks to bring to our attention to the inclusivity and togetherness that must reign among all the Americans. The poet gives a vivid encounter of slavery at a time when white Americans would not imagine mingling with slaves. There were attempts to suggest that the inequality in among the Americans and the reluctance to fully integrate such as being America way of life.
At a time when opinions were sharply divided and such topics so risky to be discussed by either faction, Whitman was steadfast in affirming that such were not his idea of nationalism and in his view, nationalism had all to do with people feeling part and parcel of the system without undue advantage. Based on such bold efforts today we are treated to a more and truly inclusive America where each and every person is accorded equal opportunity.
Whitmans works on the development of the American identity is very prevalent and well displayed in his artistic works. For instance, hes shown great displeasure of the slavery in his personal correspondence, I am the poet of slave and the masters of slaves.I move with the earth slave and hope to stand between masters and slaves (Pinsker, 1999).
In summary, Wilt Whitman had remarkable contributions towards the development of the identity of America. In his works, he exhibits great admiration of the America as a nation and this does not in any way bar him from faulting some of the ills happening within the society. I believe this is vital in shaping what one loves. Whitmans love for America is profound in the manner in which he expresses his opinion on the ills and untapped potentials that may affect us. For instance, in one of his poem, the passage to India, he awakes eastern spiritualism and shows displeasure at materialism as exhibited by his countrymen.
Emerson, on his bit, addresses potential flaws on the law of consciousness. It is seen happening at a time when a faction of the community believes in slavery is the right thing while the victims feel otherwise. To have a genuinely conscious society like we have today, Emerson and Whitman took pride in dealing with issues that painted the community the wrong way hence they are considered key to finding the true American identity.
Barrett, F. (2005). Addresses to a divided nation: Images of war in Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. The Arizona Quarterly 61(4): 67+.
Pannapacker, W. (2004). Revised lives: Walt Whitman and nineteenth-century authorship. New York: Routledge.
Pinsker, S. (1999). Walt Whitman and our multicultural America. The Virginia Quarterly Review.
Schramm, G. (2005).Whitmans lifelong endeavor: Leaves of Grass at 150. Humanities.
If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the midtermguru.com website, please click below to request its removal: