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"it is strictly true that a few first-class poets, philosophs, and authors, have substantially settled and given status to the entire religion, education, law, sociology, etc.” (p. 7.)
Furthermore, he says:
"What is I believe called Idealism seems to me to suggest (guarding against extravagance and ever modified even by its opposite), the course of inquiry and desert of favor for our New World metaphysics, their foundation of and in literature, giving hue to all.” (p. 71.) "The culmination and fruit of literary artistic expression, and its final fields of pleasure for the human soul, are in metaphysics, including the mysteries of the spiritual world, the soul itself, and the question of the immortal continuation of our identity." (p. 71 note.)
*the highest and subtlest and broadest truths of modern science wait for their true assignment and last vivid flashes of light-as Democracy waits for its-through first-class metaphysicians and speculative philosophs—laying the basements and foundations for those new, more expanded, more harmonious, more melodious, freer American poems.” (Notes Left Over.)
In "Democratic Vistas", Whitman is one of those *metaphysicians and speculative philosophs" and lays the basements and foundations for those new, more expanded, more harmonious, more melodious, freer American poems" in "Leaves of Grass”. Poetry is to be for him not only imaginative literature, but also speculative literature. Speaking more generally, we find in him both the critic and the poet, and a critic in the modern) sense of the term.
As a critic, Whitman works out his own, though indirect and, as he knows, inadequate, 2) definition of modern (American) *poetry". With Plato 3) he makes
1) Ever since Addison's time modern criticism has been marked by the application of psychology to the study of literature.
2) "Like Religion, Love, Nature, while those terms are indispensable, and we all give a sufficiently accurate meaning to them, no definition that has ever been made sufficiently encloses the name 'Poetry'." (My Book And I.)
3) He agrees largely with Plato and Aristotle with whom all criticism of fine arts began. Plato finds the truth for the subject matter of poetry in the Idea.
truth the most essential thing in poetry. We recall that Plato, however, excluded the poets of his time from his ideal world because they misrepresented the truth. Whitman, too, does not admit of any unrealities in his poetry, and hence does not enlist his modern “poet" in the long category of poets of the past. He says:
* Whatever may have been the case in years gone by, the v true use for the imaginative , faculty of modern times is to give ultimate vivification to facts, to science, and to common lives, endowing them with the glows and glories and final illustriousness which belong to every real thing, and to real things only .... Modern science and democracy seemed to be throwing out their challenge to Poetry to put them in its statements in contradiction to the songs and myths of the past .... the New World needs the poems of realities and science and of the Democratic average and basic equality, which shall be greater.” (My Book and I.)
"must be done positively by some great coming literatus, especially poet, who, while remaining fully poet, will absorb whatever science indicates, with spiritualism there must appear poets ... consistent with the Hegelian formulas, and consistent with modern science." 1) (p. 76.)
* side by side with the unflagging stimulation of the elements of religion and conscience must henceforth move with equal sway, science, absolute reason, and the general proportionate development of the whole man. These scientific facts, deductions, are divine too.") (p. 69.)
*Then may we attain to a poetry worthy the immortal soul of man, and which, while absorbing materials, and in their own sense the shows of Nature, will above all, have both directly and indirectly, a freeing, fluidizing, expanding, religious character, exulting with science, fructifying the moral elements, and stimulating aspirations and meditations on the unknown .. I hail with joy the oceanic, variegated intense practical energy, the demand for facts, even the business materialism of the current age, our States. But woe to the age and land in which these things, movements, stopping at themselves, do not tend to ideas." (p. 74.)
1) It might be observed that modern science has a speculative basis in atomism.
2) Aristotle claims that deductions alone lead to absolute scientific certainty.
* In these States beyond all precedent, poetry will have to do with actual facts."
* but the New World needs the poems of realities and science" (My Book and I.)
For Plato this truth (for poetry) can be found only in the general innate Idea. For Whitman, who sings, *I believe materialism is true and spiritualism is true”,1) this truth is found not only in Plato's innate Idea, but also in the idea from without, from real things, or the idea coming through the senses. He is first a transcendentalist and then also a sensationalist, recognizing two realities for his Democracy and the poetry of Democracy: the permanent, or absolute, reality as opposed to the reality of things, the apparent, the "real here" before us; and the "real here" before us, as opposed to myths, superstitions, etc. As we shall see more fully later (and in this connection it is well to compare * Democratic Vistas” with Plato's Republic), Whitman, like Plato, is an idealist, a psychologist, saying that the mind is endowed with real general innate ideas, but unlike Plato, who with Socrates says that much scientific knowledge is impossible, he is by adoption also a scientist, a cosmologist (like Aristotle he does not separate the general from the particular, the ideal world from the corporeal world, etc.) his is the rare, cosmical, artist-mind” (p. 20). Plato is the poet-philosopher who lives in his realm of the ideal, the absolute, and will not identify himself with vulgar reality and the oi rolloi, but Whitman singing, "I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also”,9 is the philosopher-poet who lives quite naturally among this "vulgar” reality and the average common" ("the pride and dignity of the common people, the life-blood of democracy", "the masses", "the
1) With Antecedents.
People", who, they say, "are ungrammatical, untidy, and their sins gaunt and ill-bred”, whom "Literature, strictly considered, has never recognized"), and would fain be lifted or lift humanity to the eternal realm on high.) Plato is a plutocrat, Whitman a missionary; Plato is an aristocrat, Whitman a democrat;%) and, to repeat, Plato is the poet-philosopher, Whitman the philosopher-poet.
We have merely touched upon Whitman's theory of the internal qualities of Democracy's "poetry", and, in general, of modern poetry, for his modern poetry is XX to be a democratic poetry and vice-versa: «Democracy fills the present"; "Literature expressing democracy and the modern”; *Our genius is democratic and modern". As to style, or external qualities, he says also, in part:
" It is certainly time for America above all to begin this readjustment in the scope of verse, for everything else has changed ... Has not the time arrived when, for highest current and future aims, there must imperatively come a readjustment of the whole theory and nature of Poetry?" (My Book And I.)
*Many consider the expressions of poetry and art to come under certain inflexible standards, set patterns, fixed and immovable, like cast iron. Really nothing of the sort," (A Backward Glance.)
* In my opinion the time has arrived to essentially break down the barrier of formi between prose and poetry.” (Notes Left Over.))
1) High, in this or a similar sense, is used about forty times in "Democratic Vistas".
3) Referring to Plato and aristocracy, he says: Mthe mission of government, henceforth, in civilized countries is not ... authority alone ... nor by that favorite standard of the eminent writer, the rule of the best men, ... but higher than the highest arbitrary rule, to train communities ... to rule themselves.” (p. 24.)
3) cf. Wordsworth in his Preface to the second edition of *Lyrical Ballads”: "It may be safely affirmed that there neither is nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition ... much confusion has been introduced into criticism by a contradistinction of Poetry and Prose, instead of the more philosophical one of Poetry and Matter of Fact, or Science”.
"In fact, a new theory of literary composition for imaginative works of the very first class and especially for highest poems, is the sole course open to these States." (p. 81.) Hence, subject-matter and not manner is the essential thing in poetry.
We shall find in "Democratic Vistas" very largely his theory ("basements and foundations") of modern poetry and shall look to *Leaves of Grass” for the theory put into practice.
* Behind all else that can be said, I consider 'Leaves of Grass' and its theory experimental, as in deepest sense, I consider our American republic itself to be with its theory." (My Book And I.)
"I consider the whole thing experimental.” (A Backward Glance.)
"It almost seems as if a poetry with anything like cosmic features were never possible before." (My Book And I.) (4 Backward Glance.)
w In other words, we shall find in “Democratic Vistas" the critic and in *Leaves of Grass” the poet.
the poet. His speculations and criticisms give us the substance, subjectmatter, for his poetry and resolve themselves chiefly into following, or touching upon, the "living-curve" in the history of philosophy. They are very largely, therefore, a treatise on the relation of mind and matter, the general and the particular, the innate and the acquired, the transcendental and the experimental, the eternal and the temporal, the intuitive and the empirical, Being and becoming, the subjective and the objective, the abstract and the concrete, love, fire, etc. It will be our aim to point out these relations whenever stated or suggested. The latter field is a wide one in which to work, as Whitman intended it to be: The word I myself put primarily for the description of them” (Leaves of Grass) is the word Suggestiveness. I round and finish little, if anything, and could
could not consistently with my scheme') ... *the reader is to do something for
1) How I Made a Book.