To what extent do you agree with David S. Reynolds's description of Walt Whitman as a 'democratic' poet?

Essay by robynniCollege, UndergraduateA, January 2009

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In 'Song of Myself', Walt Whitman does a lot to support the assumption that he is in fact a democratic poet. He focuses on unity at a time of great division in America, the Civil war emerging only years after his initial copy, 'Leaves of Grass,' was written. In the following essay I am going to explore Walt Whitman's role as a 'democratic' poet in American society. By looking at his epic poem 'Song of Myself' and examining different critical opinions on Whitman's work, I will investigate how Whitman became a 'democratic' poet and whether he deserves such a title.

Michael Moon states that the '1850s and 1860s (were) perhaps the period of the most intense political conflict and significant social transformation in American history to date.' (Moon: 5) For Whitman however, there was an opportunity for him to make his mark on American literature and to deliver his message of union by preaching 'endless streams of living, pulsating love and friendship.'

(Moon: 9) Whitman tries to create a giant melting pot, in which everyone merges into one entity, spirit and body are interlinked and whether the reader is old, young, male, female, and so on, is wholly unimportant. He speaks of being 'A southerner soon as a Northerner,' (Baym: 2221) and being 'of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise.' (Baym: 2221) His identity is not limited by any restrictions we would normally encounter, instead he transcends these restrictions and embodies all possible identities. Such contradictions are seen throughout the poem, and support the notion that Whitman is a democratic poet. Reynolds notes that 'he started to take seriously the Romantic notion that poets were the true legislators of the world. The power that he thought the poet had -...