A political reading of Walt Whitman

A political reading of Walt Whitman


A Political Reading of Walt Whitman’s

Leaves of Grass

Introduction 2

Emersonian Influences Reconsidered 4

Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence 7

New Americanists 9

Jacksonian America and Whitman’s Early Writing 12

Leaves of Grass and its Political Dimensions 20

Conclusion and a Call upon Poets to Come 30

Bibliography 34


“We have yet had no genius in America, with tyrannous eye, which knew the value of our incomparable materials, and saw, in the barbarism and materialism of the times, another carnival of the same gods whose picture he so much admires in Homer; then in the Middle Age; then in Calvinism. Banks and tariffs, the newspaper and caucus, methodism and unitarianism, are flat and dull to dull people, but rest on the same foundations of wonder as the Town of Troy and the temple of Delphi, and are as swiftly passing away. Our logrolling, our stumps and their politics, our fisheries, our Negroes, and Indians, our boasts, and our repudiations, the wrath of rogues, and the pusillanimity of honest men, the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon, and Texas, as yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait long for metres” (Emerson quoted in Hollander 177).

Eleven years after Emerson’s essay The Poet was concluded the wait was over. In 1855, during the week of Independence Day, Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass, which has been regarded as an answer to Emerson’s essay (see e.g. Hollander 177). In this essay I will focus on Leaves of Grass, which was Whitman’s life work. His book was a work in progress from the first edition of 1855 until his last revisions in 1892. His poems thus grew and changed as Whitman himself grew...

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