WALT WHITMAN AS A POET OF DEMOCRACY
INTRODUCTION: Whitman is not only the greatest poet of
but also one of the greatest poets of the world. Democracy is the keynote of his poetry. In his poetry we find newness. As a revolutionary poet he gives voice to the new urges and aspirations of man in an age of science and democracy. His contribution to the American poetry is praiseworthy. He earned wide acclaim for his technical innovations. America
AS A POET OF DEMOCRACY: Whitman is a great democracy. He is considered as the greatest poet of American democracy. A faith in the inherent dignity and nobility of the common man is the very root and basis of Whitman's democracy. In his view all men and women are equal and all professions are equally honourable. Whitman laid stress on liberty, fraternity and brotherhood. Without these ideals there is no question of democracy. In his poems Whitman celebrates himself. But the self-celebration is the celebration of himself as a man and an American. This makes him at once the poet of democracy and the poet of
America. In fact, Whitman's democracy is ideal and universal. The body of his thought is nationalistic. His democracy is spiritual too. It is because he sees in democracy the possibilities of universal peace, tolerance and brotherhood. To conclude, Whitman is not a mere idealist, a theorist of democracy but his democracy is practical. His ideal of democracy is essentially pragmatic and earthbound.
TREATMENT OF LOVE AND SEX: Whitman is the most revolutionary of poets. He is a revolutionary not only in the matters of versification but he is equally a revolutionary in regard to the subject matter. His treatment of love and sex is equally revolutionary. This treatment is frank and realistic. He again and again asserts that he is the poet of the body and the soul both. For such treatment he has been called a believer in the flesh and appetites, gross and sensual. His 'Leaves of Grass' is avowedly the song of sex. As a serious student of love and sex Whitman deeply explored the psychology of love and sex. Sexual imagery runs through his book. He does not hesitate to sing of love outside marriage, even of casual sex-encounters and homosexuality. But a careful reading reveals that all this sexuality has been sublimated and philosophised. Like all mystics he conceives of God as his beloved. The sex-encounters are the poet's meetings with his Maker. The body is glorified because it has been created by the divine. Sex is conceived of as energy and as the life force.
AS A POET OF SCIENCE: Whitman is as much a poet of science as of democracy. This is seen in his frequent references to the theories of inventions of science. In Whitman's poetry we come across repeated references to scientists, engineers, technicians, architects, inventors and others. In 'Song of the Open Root' Whitman gives expression to the Darwinian theory of the continuous struggle for existence. The scientific theory that matter is indestructible has been expressed in 'Song of Myself'. Whitman believed in the deterministic theory. He believes that whatever has been created has its significance. Nothing that has been created is useless. Even the evil has also its place and significance. That's why the poet shows his interest in the body along with the soul. Nothing is really evil or trivial and worthless. Therefore, he sings of the entire expanse of the round globe.
Union, equality, human dignity and progress are major themes of Whitman's poetry. Whitman is the most uncompromising champion of democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity and brotherhood in the annals of American poetry. The idea of union attains a great height in the theme of death. His 'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed' deals with the death of Abraham Lincoln, leader and hero of American democracy. In his handling of his theme, Whitman is the undoubted forerunner of the poetry of socialism. Whitman was the first to introduce the theme of labour into poetry.
AS A TECHNICAL INNOVATOR: Whitman is a great technical innovator. His poetry was a new kind of poetry. It deals with new themes and ideas. Thus it required a new kind of language. In order to increase the expressive range of his language, he freely used words taken from the life of trade, commerce and business of the average American. He compounded and coined words. He imported words from foreign language. He did not even hesitate to use slangy and colloquial words. He was symbolist long before symbolism became a conscious movement in
Europe. His poetry is highly symbolic. He used symbolism to communicate his apprehension of the mystery of the universe.
CONCLUSION: Thus Walt Whitman is a great poet. He greatly influenced the coming generations of English and American poets. He is, indeed, the greatest poet of American democracy and his'Leaves of Grass' is the Bible of Democracy.