Walt Whitman's Lead into Modernism

Essay by Jason HammesUniversity, Master'sA+, January 2005

download word file, 7 pages 5.0

Walt Whitman is unmistakably one of the most renowned and influential early American romantic poets. However, his revolutionary style and structure, ideologies and unbridled optimism for society and mankind made way for departures from Romanticism towards a new movement; Modernism. Thomson Gale writes that Modernism can be "defined by its rejection of the literary conventions of the nineteenth century and by its opposition to conventional morality, taste, traditions, and economic values." (Thompson Gale). Literary modernism focuses on breaking away from traditional rules and conventions; to search for new perspectives and points of view while experimenting with form and style. It can be argued that Whitman's free versed unconventional poetry and challenge of social and political practices provided some of the first glimmers of the modernist movement.

When studying American poetry it is important to understand its roots. From the country's early beginnings until late in the nineteenth century, American poetry nearly mimicked English poetry.

The most popular poetic philosophy was Romanticism. Romantics believed that good poetry found new and ingenious methods of describing universal and accepted truths, and that these truths could be realized or understood through the close observations and reporting of nature. Romantics felt that poetry should be enjoyable, and at the same time provide moral instruction. (Lacour, 1081)

Although, Romanticism was not as powerful of a force in America as it was in England it still played a major role in much of the writings of early American poets. One of the best practitioners of Romantic poetry on the American front was Walt Whitman, who believed in poetry holding an elevated status and often spoke of poetry and the poet as a fusion or mélange of all reality. His poetry also marked the beginning of something new in verse, especially American verse. Being one of the first...