This week I’m talking about the well-know Walt Whitman, who I keep confusing with Walt Disney even though they are not the same person. You’re welcome. We read his (Whitman’s) preface to Leaves of Grass this week and WHOO BOY
This guy was a crazy patriot. A. Crazy. Patriot. We’re talking the kind of ‘MURICA loving redneck that is made popular on TV kind of patriotic. But, I mean, he was also really smart and had some good ideas.
Except. What he said didn’t really match up with what he was saying.
I’m going to paraphrase here, because Whitman isn’t exactly the easiest person to quote. Basically, he believed in an American where everyone was equal and the same kind of everything, and through our poetical prowess we would lead the world into a new age with a new religion led by “poet-priests.” Cool, right? Except Whitman keeps talking about poets are the same as everyone yet are the only ones who can see this, the only ones who can guide, the only ones etc.
Er. You can’t be the best of the equal minded.
I give Whitman his patriotism. In the time of Manifest Destiny, Americans had earned it. Honestly, I’m kind of glad no one is as overtly patriotic as him these days. We get ourselves into enough trouble as it is. But the idea of the poet as the best equal person? Make them the best or make them equal … but they can’t be both. It creates a kind of tension in the piece that its angering and ironic.
It was an easy read. Because I skimmed a lot of his list metaphors. Otherwise? No, Whitman, no. I’m sorry there pal. You tried.
One thought on “Perusing Poetics: The Best Equal Person”
You could certainly look more at the tension between “equality” for Whitman, and the relationship that has with balance and with things having their places. Everything “fitting in” seems related to an overarching unity and wholeness (nationhood–remember that he was trouble by the prospect of civil war), but that is certainly not the same as “equality.” Unpacking Whitman’s notion of equality is a daunting task, but probably a rewarding one.