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Analysis of Walt Whitman Poetry Essay

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Updated: Mar 25th, 2020

Poets are known for their outstanding poetic styles as well as their core concerns in the society. As one specializes in poetry, chances are that as a poet he or she will evaluate the various available styles and finally settle on the one they consider the best. The same poet will also tend to be inclined and only write about particular types of issues in society which may include love, civil wars, politics as well as religion. This was more common with early poets and each poet had a trademark poetic style as well as a particular interest in society.

Once the poet chooses a particular line of specialization, say love, then the whole of the poet’s literary works would be about love and nothing else. Subsequently, poets chose between free verse poetry and stanzas. The choice of style was majorly affected by the region of origin and as a matter of fact, most American poets advocated for free verse while British poets seemed more comfortable with poems in stanzas.

Walt Whitman was a renowned American poet who also worked as a teacher and a journalist besides poetry. These occupations placed him in command of large linguistics as well as literary knowledge. Some authors and poets refer to him as the “The King of American poetry” due to his poetic prowess.

Furthermore, he is remembered for adherence to the American free verse style of poetry and also regarded as the father of American modern and democratic poetry. During his period, Whitman was known for his opposition to the spread of slavery in America as he advocated for the inclusion of African-Americans in the American legislative system (Reynolds 30).

His literary works are characterized by romantic, political and social thematic concerns. He emphasized the relationship between poetry and society and in most cases opted to use the average common personas in his verses rather than the usual heroic personas. In line with this, most of his works make use of the first person narration or omnipresent narrators.

Another outstanding feature of his poetry is the musicality in his rhymes. In fact, he is ranked among poets with the highest number of literary works that have been set to music by a large number of composers. The diction in his verses is such that the musicality in the articles clearly comes out.

The subject matter of the verse is about human love for nature. However, the themes are indirectly presented in that one needs an in-depth analysis in order to get the subject matter in question. Most poets employ this strategy to capture the readers’ emotions in their verses. Indeed good poets indirectly present their themes so as to leave room for the readers’ contribution and Whitman is no exception.

In this verse, he presents a speaker who is in an astronomy class and is amazed by the lecturer’s content especially the mathematical concepts in the lecture. He gets bored during the lecture and almost dozes off. However, he opts to move out and the serene sky with bright stars takes him back to the subject matter of the lecture. He stares at the sky while trying to infer comparisons between the inside environment and the actual astronomical environment he meets outside the lecture room (Broderick 46).

The speaker shows admiration and fascination at the mathematical concepts as presented by the poet, “The charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them” (Whitman line 3). Thus, when the speaker feels he can no longer take abstract facts about astronomy, he moves out of confinement to explore the outside world. This implies the extent to which information about nature if freely available to human beings upon their will can be able to achieve and inspire. The atmosphere outside still brings out the admiration and the romantic attachments of the speaker to nature.

The poet uses a first person speaker to achieve tone. Throughout the verse, the speaker sounds appreciative of astronomy and although he does not keenly follow the lecture on astronomy, he opts to move out and practically observe the stars since astronomy is the study of stars. Thus, the persona is appreciative of the studies on the stars and that is why he still stares at the stars in perfect silence perhaps to relate the lecture to the real topic in discussion, “Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars”, (Whitman line 8).

The mood in the poem is divided into two. In the first part, the persona is fascinated and retired and he does not comprehend the charts and graphs that the lecturer is talking about. However, on moving out he is relaxed and contented and takes his time to examine the stars on his own. Change of mood in the rhyme is a deliberate strategy by the poet to maintain the reader concentration by trying to vary the empathic attachments of the reader.

Several aspects of poetic style and figurative language stand out. The poet uses his trademark style of poetry by writing his work in a single verse. The advantage with this style in poetry is that the poet has the freedom to decide on the length of the verse in order to meet the thematic concerns of the poem. More so, free verse does not also confine the poet to a certain sentence structure.

The poet also uses shortened form of words since he opts to write “learn’d” (Whitman line 1) instead of learned which helps the poet achieve internal rhyme within sentences. The actual pronunciation of the shortened words also brings out the musicality. The diction chosen is such that it extensively uses short words. This could be best revealed when the verse is recited out aloud. The intonation brought out through the pronunciation of these words brings out the close tonal intensity as intended by the poet. A similar intonation is also employed to simplify the recitation as well.

Most poetic works written by Whitman are largely characterized by musical aspects. The poet achieves musicality through various aspects of rhyme which in poetry largely depends on the choice of words by the poet as they may decide to use internal rhyme or terminal rhyme as deemed necessary. For instance in this poem, the poet opts for repetition of certain words in the verse to create musicality. The word “when” (Whitman line 3, 4 and 5) is repeatedly used at the start of the first five sentences. This makes it easy to recite musically. Rhyming words are also extensively used, for example, heard and learn’d, proofs and figures as well as gliding and rising. It would be prudent to note that each line in the rhyme contains rhyming words (Broderick 47).

Repetition and rhyme are the two main literary styles used by the poet to achieve musicality which is an important aspect of poetry especially when it is to be recited out. It does not only make the verse interesting and easy to recite but also makes it sound simpler and with simplified themes. It stands out that poetic works which do not have rhyme do not have musicality. Again, a lack of rhyme in a verse is wholly designed by the poet through diction and sometimes the subject matter may influence diction subsequently resulting in absence of rhyme.

Walt Whitman was to a large extend concerned with social aspects in society although this particular one is not famous among his works, it is squarely within his scope of concern. It touches on the love of natural phenomenon. The verse is intended to enhance and emphasize the need for appreciation and conservation of nature. Studies on the natural environment are meant to enhance and widen human understanding of nature. This knowledge is intended to encourage conservation of the same natural environment.

Astronomy is thus used in this context to represent the general natural environment and although human beings have virtually nothing to contribute to the existence of stars in the sky, the poet points out such studies on the same stars can turn out to be so soothing and interesting. Hence, this piece of art is so relevant in the social context especially when emphasizing on environmental conservation.

Poems written by Walt Whitman are simple and easy to understand. They also deal with simple themes that are easier to analyze. This brings out a new and most important aspect in poetry. Unlike the current modern poetry, poets do not necessarily need to be complex to develop their themes. Walt Whitman maintained a simple diction, simple themes and still managed to attain the targeted reader effect. Complex themes and sophisticated poetic styles make poetries hard to analyze and understand.

In the case of social verses, the poet intended effect on the reader can only be achieved if the verse is correctly analyzed and subsequently understood by the reader. For this reason, poets should carefully choose on diction that keeps the whole article simple and easy to understand. Poets should also get used to tackling simple themes and in incidences of complex themes; they should find means of breaking them down into subsequent simple themes. The whole point here is to remain simple but precise. This is what makes poetry done by “The King of American poetry” stand out due to its simplicity and precision (Reynolds 31).

Walt Whitman indeed deserves to be called the King of American poetry. His poetic works are precisely designed to achieve a certain objective. “When he chose to educate, his limericks are worth lectures and when he decides to entertain, his works are real pieces of music”, I strongly agree with these words by James Truslow (Reynolds 32).

In when I heard the learn’d astronomer, he decides to enlighten the society on the need for environmental conservation through a simple but quite comprehensive (Whitman line 5). These are pure qualities of a complete and seasoned poet. Modern poets should therefore embrace methods used by this great poet in order to vary their poetic approaches as well as reach out to a larger reader population.

Works Cited

Broderick, John. “Walt Whitman’s Earliest”. The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, 30.1 (1973): 44-47. Library of CongressStable. Web.

Reynolds, David “Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography”. Archives of American Art Journal, 34, 3 (1994): 29-32. The Smithsonian InstitutionStable. Web.

Whitman, Walt. 2013. When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer. Web.

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