Write a note on Whitman’s poetic technique with reference to “Song of Myself’.
Show Whitman is against traditional forms and themes of poetry.
Answer: Whitman’s technique in writing poetry is something of a new trend. He was a rebel not only in his subject matter and attitude to life, but also in his style, diction and versification. The conventional rhyming and metrical verse did not attract him. He had in his mind something new to say and describe. His perception of new scenes, new life-styles, cultures and ideals made up his mind to break away from orthodoxy. He was not actually far from traditional Poetic styles, but he remade and refreshed tradition with bold realistic view of his individual talent.
Whitman believed that the language of poetry should be from the poet’s own experience, not from books. He used the language’ he heard on his way towards life. His lyrics, dramatic dialogues with himself, long musical lines are something different where meter and rhyme are not used in conventional way. His abundant use of alliteration, though sometimes was criticized as being unpoetic, is of great value to portray the theme.
To reach the common readers, Whitman wrote poetry using diction and verse of modern American English. James Miller says:
“Whitman’s wit inheres in his language . . . His book is America’s linguistic melting pot; in it all the languages of all the people are mixed and stirred into one heady, hearty stew”.
To give the poetry a universal tone of acceptation or appreciation, Whitman writes poems free from ornaments. Poetic language, though many think the use of some bombastic words that follow some particular rhyme-rules, is something different to Whitman. He thinks poetic language should be developed through the use of common-people language. He bears the ideology that “to speak with perfect rectitude is the flawless triumph of art”.
As a poet of people, Whitman wanted to create poetry of his native language. We observe, in many places, the use of American idioms in Whitman’s poems. He has used many slang that he thinks the common man’s experiment with language. He borrowed words from all spheres of life. His phrase ‘Bully for you’ and words such as `adhesive’, ‘revolve’, ‘retrograde’, ‘distil’, ‘filter’, are very much common in use in America.
Being a representative of his native language, Whitman shares his feelings with the readers using some effective forcing words. He uses many words of Elizabethan origin aiming to give, his poem a rich tone of universalism. His use of the words ‘betwixt’, methink’, ‘Beseems’ ‘nay’ etc. gives us chance to think about his refined mixture of contemporary American English with the traditional ones.
Whitman’s poetry, to many of the critics, has some significant prose element. To say it truly, his poems are constructed with speaking style. He puts into poetry a new fashion regarded as prosaic. For example, he writes in “Song of Myself-, “You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself “. This type of lines that are found almost everywhere in Whitman’s poetry expresses his oral and conversational style. Again, another lines is “Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes”, Here we feel that we are going through a novel or a short story. Whitman, so to say believed that poetry should be spoken, not written; and this basic criterion governed the concept and form of his poetry.
Whitman’s style reflects his individualism. He once wrote; “I sometimes think the Leaves (the book of his poems) is only a language experiment”. He was a master of using cheerful phrases and images. ‘The beautiful uncut fair of graves’, is extraordinarily descriptive. He also says in the same section of the same poem “Song of Myself” that grass is “the handkerchief of the Lord”. The utterance shows a bit triviality.
Whitman, a presenter of physical world, brought vitality and sensitiveness with acute awareness to his descriptions. He was very much conscious of the changing world. And this conscious sign is found in his frequent use of `ing’ form.
Whitman’s language is full of eccentricities. He used the word `presindentiad’ for presidency, ‘pave’ for pavement and spelled Canada with only a K.
Whitman experimented with meter, rhythm, and form of poetry because he believed that experimentation was the law of the changing time. Whitman was fond of trochaic than iambic meter. An iamb is a metrical foot of two syllables, the second of which is accented. Whitman was not the traditional one partly because of his desire for oratorical style since the trochee is more suitable for eloquent expression than iambic meter. Whitman may also like to use trochee for his love to depict something new, unusual and novel.
Whitman has used imagery, a figurative use of language, with depth of sensory perceptions. His imagery has some logical orders on the conscious to the sub-conscious level producing a stream-of-consciousness image. He believed that everything is significant in this world. He says;
“A leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars”.
In section 39 of “Song of Myself’, Whitman mentions the image of Christ, a healer, comforter and a lover of humanity. He says “The friendly and flowing savage” which merges with the other identities contained in the total idea of poet’s self.
To give his style and theme a more attractive form and meaning, Whitman has used symbols in his poems as an integral part of expression. The very first word of the poem “Song of Myself’ I’ introduces not only the poet, but also every modern man who believes in democracy. He sings of himself and celebrates the whole humanity in that `self. He calls himself a `kosmos’ meaning a universe that amounts to a renewed definition of the poet’s self who loves all — naked and bare, noble and ignoble, refined and crude, beautiful and ugly, pleasant and painful. Grass, sea, river, earth, birth and heavenly bodies are symbols used to convey the poet’s perception of transcendental mystery.
The catalogue is another special characteristic of Whitman’s poetic technique. The poet develops a kind of microscopic vision in the way he glorifies the details of the commonplace. The poet’s experience is ecstatic; his joy comes to him through his senses. The catalogue of people and places is an attempt to give a feeling of universal scope. The independent lines of Whitman are especially noticeable in the catalogues where image follows image as line follows line. Here, some notable lines from “Song of Myself’ are:
Where the she-whale swims with her calf …. Where the steam-ship trails hind-ways its long penant of smoke, Where the fur of the shark cuts like a black chip out of the water.
Each line constitutes a picture sharply focused and then quickly dropped. In the catalogues, we see the stylistic embodiment of Whitman’s democratic impulse. From the above discussion on Whitman’s poetic technique, we may say that he was a new one in style of writing poetry against the traditional norms. His language, words, rhythm and meter are very much different from others. Whitman’s imagery, symbols, catalogues are very significant in conveying the mystic, democratic theme of his, poems. To him, Whitman asserts, the Leaves is an experiment of language’: To reach to the common people, Whitman has created a prosaic form of poetry using colloquial language.