American Bards

American Bards: Walt Whitman and Other Unlikely Candidates for National Poet

Edward Whitley
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    American Bards
    Book Description:

    Walt Whitman has long been regarded as the quintessential American bard, the poet who best represents all that is distinctive about life in the United States. Whitman himself encouraged this view, but he was also quick to remind his readers that he was an unlikely candidate for the office of national poet, and that his working-class upbringing and radical take on human sexuality often put him at odds with American culture. While American literary history has tended to credit Whitman with having invented the persona of the national outsider as the national bard, Edward Whitley recovers three of Whitman's contemporaries who adopted similar personae: James M. Whitfield, an African American separatist and abolitionist; Eliza R. Snow, a Mormon pioneer and women's leader; and John Rollin Ridge, a Cherokee journalist and Native-rights advocate.These three poets not only provide a counterpoint to the Whitmanian persona of the outsider bard, but they also reframe the criteria by which generations of scholars have characterized Whitman as America's poet. This effort to resituate Whitman's place in American literary history provides an innovative perspective on the most familiar poet of the United States and the culture from which he emerged.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0635-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    When William Michael Rossetti credited Walt Whitman with being “the one man” in America to have created a school of distinctively national poetry, he nurtured the persona that Whitman himself had already cultivated as the “solitary singer” of the United States.1 As Whitman wrote nearly a decade earlier, “I alone advance among the people en-masse, coarse and strong / I am he standing first there, solitary chanting the true America.”2 Generations of readers and critics since Rossetti have similarly ceded this point to Whitman, calling him the most representative of American bards and the definitive national poet of the United...

  7. Chapter One The Poet of Slaves
    (pp. 21-66)
    James M. Whitfield

    In early August 1848, the first national convention of the newly formed Free-Soil Party took place in Buffalo, New York. Those in attendance were a mix of former Democrats, Whigs, and Liberty Party members who, for various reasons, opposed the extension of slavery into territories acquired by the United States during the Mexican War. Walt Whitman attended the convention as one of the official delegates from Brooklyn. Like many other Democrats who split with their party when it failed to support the Wilmot Proviso’s ban on slavery in the new territories, Whitman joined the Free-Soil Party not because he opposed...

  8. Chapter Two Poet of a New American Religion
    (pp. 67-112)
    Eliza R. Snow

    In September 1879 Walt Whitman was visiting Denver, Colorado, as part of a trip to the western United States that included stops in Lawrence, Kansas, and St. Louis, Missouri. Almost twenty years earlier Whitman had written in the poem “A Promise to California” that he would travel to California because “these States tend inland and toward the Western sea, and I will also” (LG108).1 Restricted by limited finances and failing health, however, Whitman was unable to keep this promise and headed home to New Jersey without ever having seen the Pacific Ocean. If Whitman had continued on to the...

  9. Chapter Three The First White Aboriginal
    (pp. 113-154)
    John Rollin Ridge

    For the first half of 1865, Walt Whitman was working as a clerk at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. He appears to have enjoyed the job, which offered him a steady paycheck, a flexible work schedule, and the opportunity to meet with the Native American delegates who had came to negotiate treaties and land deals with the federal government. Native Americans had been appearing regularly in Whitman’s poetry and prose since the early 1840s, but not until his time at the Indian Bureau did he have extended contact with indigenous peoples. These delegations of visiting Indians...

  10. Chapter Four An American, One of the Roughs, a Kosmos
    (pp. 155-190)
    Walt Whitman

    In the early fall of 1855, Walt Whitman wrote and published three anonymous reviews of the first edition ofLeaves of Grass, a bold and audacious move intended not only to generate publicity for his book but also to instruct critics and potential readers on how they were to receive it. By far the boldest and most audacious moment in all three of these reviews occurs when Whitman refers to himself as “the true American poet,” proclaiming that he is “an American bard at last!”1 For years scholars have commented on how Whitman used this review to introduce himself as...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 191-212)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-234)
  13. Index
    (pp. 235-248)