Walt Whitman

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Walt Whitman (1819-1892), for many the quintessential New York and by analogy American poet, relied on creative repitition in consecutive lines for the force of his poetry. His poetry often has a certain hypnotic quality that inspires as it informs. This quality can be traced indirectly through religious or quasi religious speech and writings such as the Harlem Renaissance poet James Weldon Johnson.

Whitman's break with the past made his poetry a model for the French symbolists (who in turn influenced the surrealists) and "modern" poets such as Pound, Eliot, and Auden. To get a flavor of this power, consider and read aloud these lines from "Leaves of Grass" (1855) (his most famous poem):

I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
I too walked the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me,
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution,
I too had received identity by my body,
That I was, I knew was of my body - and what I should be, I knew I should be of my body.

See the brief essay on Whitman by Galway Kinnell in "Poetry Speaks" (Sourcebooks 2001), which also has on CD what claims to be a live recording of Whitman reading a few lines.

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