Walt Whitman as a modern poet

 Question: Discuss Walt Whitman as a modern poet. Walt Whitman as a modern poet


Modernism has to be defined first before we discuss the modernistic elements in Walt Whitman (1819-1892). It is a style or movement in the arts that aims to depart significantly from classical or traditional forms. Britannica Ready Reference Encyclopedia defines modernism in the following terms, “In the arts a radical break with the past and concurrent search for new forms of expression.

Representation of democracy

Democracy is the most modernist tendency in literature and Whitman has presented as a strong advocate of American democracy. He tries to encompass the whole of America. He finds his subjects among all sorts and conditions and catalogs symbolize the equalizing process of democracy. His conception of equality and democracy gives every individual an exalted status. Whitman asserts though there have been a lot of pitfalls in the way democracy, it will ultimately win the victory.

“For you these form me, O Democracy, to serve you, me femme”.

Thus, Whitman is a modernist because of his expression of most modern tendency in poetry.

Use of blank verse

Whitman has not followed the poetic conventions and traditions and techniques. His greatest contribution to the growth of American poetry is his total change of the existing poetic form and his use of free verse since he deals with a modern man with a fresh outlook on life. He has also discarded rhyme and meter which are two traditional elements of poetic style. Later in the modern period, the use of blank verse in poetry has become a fashion in poetry writing including T. S. Eliot. So, Whitman is out and out a modernist one.

Universal tone

To give the poetry a universal tone of acceptance or appreciation, Whitman writes poems free from ornaments. poetic language, though many think the use of some bombastic words that follow some particular rhyme-rules, is something different to Whitman. He thinks poetic language should be developed through the use of common people’s language. He bears the ideology that to speak with perfect rectitude is the flawless triumph of art.

Exercise of images and symbols from the modern perspective

The use of the images and symbols by Whitman is also a modernist element due to his dramatic element in poetry. The “I” and “You” in his poems introduce the dramatic element. Whitman is peculiar that is why he does not present his images and pictures before his readers in any logical order. However, to give his style and theme a more attractive form and meaning, he has used symbols in his poems as an integral part of the expression. He says:

“I name everything as it comes”

This quotation is also a fantastic example of a stream of consciousness that is applied by Whitman before the inauguration of this very literary device. In this way, he is the modernist of the modernists.

In terms of the poetic medium

Walt Whitman is modern in terms of his poetic medium too. If we consider him from the viewpoint of syntax, we find him the poet of the phrase. A complete sentence is not important to him. Modern poets echo the syntax of Whitman.

Evaluation of the critic

Critic after critic has paid glowing tribute to Walt Whitman as the pioneer of the modern critic. However, the best tribute is ever paid by D.H. Lawrence who remarks “Whitman, the one man breaking wave ahead. Whitman, the one pioneer. And only Whitman. No English pioneers, no French. No European pioneer-poets”.


From the above discussion on Whitman’s poetic technique, we may say that he is a new one in the style of writing poetry against the traditional norms. His language, rhythm, and meter are very much different from others. To reach the common people, he has created a prosaic form of poetry using colloquial language.

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SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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