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Revisiting Walt Whitman

On the Occasion of his 200th Birthday

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Edited By Winfried Herget

The collection of essays explores the transnational and intermedial (music, visual arts, digital media) legacy of Walt Whitman. It provides examples of his influence as well as suggestive parallels in contemporary poetry and thought. One common concern is the question of Whitman’s understanding of democracy and its consequences for poetry and art. Revisiting Whitman has no revisionist agenda. Nor is it nearly celebratory: it also shows tensions and ambivalences in the oeuvre of "The Good Gray Poet."

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Walt Whitman’s Antagonistic Inheritors: Ezra Pound, Hart Crane and William Carlos Williams (Heinz Ickstadt)

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Heinz Ickstadt

Walt Whitman’s Antagonistic Inheritors: Ezra Pound, Hart Crane and William Carlos Williams

Abstract: The nineteenth century burdened the poet with a twofold social responsibility: he was to give visionary direction to the collective (national) consciousness at the same time that he was to “purify the dialect of the tribe.” This aesthetic ideology entered the literature of the young American nation via Emerson’s “The Poet” and received its foundational expression in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass – which in turn had a long-lasting impact on the poetry of American modernism and beyond. In Crane’s The Bridge, it echoes in the visionary poet-figure, who, in the mask of Columbus, ties the reality of his discovery to the power of his-word-ship to convey his vision. Whitman’s legacy is equally alive in W.C. Williams, who, although he rejected the subjectivity of Crane’s vatic pose, nevertheless took up the poet’s collective burden in a different manner by wanting to create, in the spirit of Whitman’s “language experiment,” an American poetic language from its roots in common speech. None of these modernist poets echo Whitman directly – with the possible exception of Hart Crane – yet, like Pound, they acknowledge his presence as ancestral master figure antagonistically, accepting his legacy while rejecting it.

Many poets of European and American Romanticism accepted a twofold social burden as part of their quasi-religious vocation. As priestlike spiritual leaders, they were to give visionary direction to the collective consciousness at the same...

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