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manner and wholly without reference to timehonored modes of poetic expression. Such receptivity of mind is indispensable.
Whitman called his rhapsodies' poems,'' chants,' or 'songs' indifferently; the last term was a favorite with him, in later editions; he has a 'Song ' of the Open Road,' a 'Song of the Broad-Axe,' a 'Song for Occupations,' a 'Song of the Rolling 'Earth,' a 'Song of Myself,' a 'Song of the Ex'position,' a 'Song of the Redwood-Tree,' 'Songs 'of Parting,' and yet more songs. Obviously he used the word without reference to the traditional meaning. Says Whitman: '. . . it is not on Leaves ' of Grass distinctively as literature, or a specimen thereof, that I feel to dwell, or advance claims. 'No one will get at my verses who insists upon viewing them as a literary performance, or attempt 'at such performance, or as aiming mainly toward 'art or æstheticism.' Holding as he did that so long as 'the States' were dominated by the poetic ideals of the Old World they would stop short of first-class nationality, his own practice necessarily involved getting rid, first of all, of the forms in which poetry had hitherto found expression.
That the structure of Whitman's rhapsodies is determined by some law cannot be questioned. After one has read these pieces many times, he will find himself instinctively expecting a certain cadence. The change of a word spoils it, the introduction of a rhyme is intolerable. They who
are versed in Whitman's style can probably detect at once a variation from his best manner. That his peculiarities in the arrangement of words are very subtile is plain from a glance at the numerous and generally unsuccessful parodies of Leaves of Grass. The parodists have not grasped Whitman's secret. Merely to write in irregular lines and begin each line with a capital is to represent only the obvious and superficial side. Whitman is inimitable even in his catalogues. The ninth stanza of 'I Sing the Body Electric' reads like an extract from a papal anathema, but it has the Whitmanesque quality; no one can reproduce it. The imitations of Whitman are always amusing and often ingenious, but they are not, like Lewis Carroll's Three Voices,' true parodies.
Whitman probably did not know every step of the process by which he attained his results. He was a poet who created his own laws and had no philosophy of poetic form to expound.
LEAVES OF GRASS
A FIRST impression of Leaves of Grass is of uncouthness and blatancy, together with something yet more objectionable. The writer would seem to be a man fond of shocking what are called the pro
LEAVES OF GRASS prieties, so frank and egregious is his animalism, so overpowering his self-assertiveness.
The author of Laus Veneris accuses Whitman of indecency. The charge is a grave one and emanates from a high source. The distinguished English poet admits that there are few subjects which 'may not be treated with success;' but the treatment is everything. This is a radical and funda(mental truth of criticism.' Whitman's indecency then consists not so much in the choice of the subject as in the awkwardness of the touch. Or as Swinburne puts it with characteristic emphasis : *Under the dirty paws of a harper whose plectrum is a muck-rake any tune will become a chaos of *discords, though the motive of the tune should be 'the first principle of nature — the passion of man for woman or the passion of woman for man.'
But along with that first impression of Whitman's verse as the product of a strong, coarse nature, wilfully brutal at times, comes the no less marked impression that the man is serenely honest, and animated by a benevolence which helps to relieve the brutality of its most repulsive features. At all events, Whitman is what Carlyle might have described as one of the palpablest of ‘Facts in this miserable world where so much is
Invertebrate and Phantasmal.' Whether we like him or not, Whitman is by no means one of those neutral literary persons who are in danger of being overlooked.
In fact, the word 'literary as applied to the author of Leaves of Grass is singularly inept. Whitman is not literary, that is to say he is not a product of libraries. No meek and reverent follower of poets gone before is this. “He has no literary ancestor, he is an ancestor himself' or at least takes the attitude of one. He is a son of earth, a genuine autochthon, naked and not ashamed, noisy, vociferous, naïvely delighted with the music of his own raucous voice.
In that first great rhapsody, ‘Poem of Walt Whitman, an American,'' we have the most
, characteristic expression of his genius. He proclaims his interest in all that concerns mankind not a cold, objective interest merely, he is himself a part of the mighty pageant of life, sympathetic with every phase of joy and sorrow, identifying himself with high and low, finding nothing mean or contemptible. He states the idea with a hundred variations, returns upon it, sets it in new lights, enforces it. Every phenomenon of human life teaches this lesson. Every pleasure, every grief, every experience small or great concerns him. He identifies himself with the life of the most miserable of creatures :
I am possess'd!
And feel the dull unintermitted pain. So called in the edition of 1856. In the edition of 1897 it is entitled • Song of Myself.”
LEAVES OF GRASS He carries the process of identification too far at times, leading to results that would be disgusting were they not laughably grotesque. Whitman makes no reservations on the score of taste.
This doctrine of the unity of being and experience is comprehensive, not limited to human life; the brute and insentient existences are included as well. For a statement of Whitman's creed take the poem beginning: ‘There was a child went 'forth. If a busy man were ambitious to know something about Whitman's poetry and had only a minimum of time to give to the subject (like Franklin when he undertook to post up on revealed religion), one would not hesitate to commend to his notice this poem as one of the first to be read. The theme is contained in the four introductory lines. All that follows is an amplification of a single thought:There was a child went forth every day, And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became, And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain
part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
Every object grows incorporate with the child, an essential inseparable part of him,
the early lilacs, the noisy brood of the barnyard, people, home, the family usages, doubts even (doubts whether that which appears is so, or is it all 'flashes and specks ? '), the streets, the shops, the crowd surging along, shadows and mist, and boats and waves,