Thursday, March 29, 2012
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Upon reading reviews of Whitman, I found that some of his critics just didn't pick up what Whitman was putting down- particularly, an anonymous reviewer for the Critic 15. In the way of most literary criticism, this writer attempts to discern Whitman's place in the long line of writers and poets before him. However, what this attempt fails to recognize Whitman's overarching purpose- that is, to write a poem to redefine poetry for his readers. Whitman's attempts to be the everyman are lost on this critic as he first fixates on the poet's portrait, saying that it "expresses all the features of the hard democrat, and none of the flexile delicacy of the civilised poet." The reviewer circles around the point Whitman attempts to make about the nature of poetry and its place in the world, but ultimately I would argue that the critic misreads Whitman’s intent entirely. He says, “If this work is really a work of genius—if the principles of those poems, their free language, their amazing and audacious egotism, their animal vigour, be real poetry and the divinest evidence of the true poet—then our studies have been in vain, and vainer still the homage which we have paid the monarchs of Saxon intellect, Shakspere, and Milton, and Byron.” For this critic, Whitman is not only a Calliban-esque figure, but he views the work of previous poets (like Shakespeare and Milton) as a threatened Miranda. For him, Walt’s work not only moves away from previous poetic traditions, it cannot exist as “genius” simultaneously.
On the other hand, there are several reviews that do seem to appreciate Whitman’s intent, though perhaps not the chosen manner of execution. One writes, “We must be just to Mr. Whitman in allowing that he has one positive merit. His verse has a purpose…He asserts man's right to express his delight in animal enjoyment, and the harmony in which he should stand, body and soul, with fellow men and the whole universe…Perhaps it might have been done as well, however, without being always so purposely obscene, and intentionally foul-mouthed, as Mr. Whitman is.” This critic seems to be the most rational of Whitman’s dissenters. He does not view him as a devil, or a threat to other poets. Rather he understands Walt’s intent, though perhaps not the language and imagery he employs to convey it.
While many other reviewers were less inclined to declare Whitman the savage of poetry, some did voice similar concerns regarding Walt’s place in the poetic canon. A critic writes, “If this is poetry, where must its foregoers stand? And what is at once to become of the ranks of rhymesters, melancholy and swallow-tailed, and of all the confectioners and upholsterers of verse, if the tan-faced man here advancing and claiming to speak for America and the nineteenth hundred of the Christian list of years, typifies indeed the natural and proper bard?” A fair amount of Whitman’s criticism centers on this question. Critics are unsure of how to proceed with something so radically different than what has come before it.