Poetry Of Whitman And Emerson

The poets Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson reveled in their love for nature.

The writers Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson reveled in their love for nature. Emerson's 1836 masterpiece Nature is the first of many books he will publish over his career as a writer. Whitman, in "Song of Myself" published in 1855, like Emerson, demonstrates a unique ability to transform nature into poetic verse. Reading Emerson's Nature and comparing it to Whitman's "Song of Myself" the reader becomes aware of the enormous influence Emerson had upon Whitman.

Emerson writes:

Hundreds of writers may be found in every long-civilized nation, who for a short time believe, and make others believe, that they see and utter truths, who do not of themselves clothe one thought in its natural garment, but who feed unconsciously on the language created by the primary writers of the country, those, namely, who hold primarily on nature.

Whitman did hold primarily on nature. He traveled the land recording what he saw in verse. Whitman writes in "Song of Myself, 2," "The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore, and / dark color'd sea rocks, and of the hay in the barn. . ./ the feeling of health, the full-noon trill the song of me rising / from bed and meeting the sun." It's as if Emerson is describing what he believes is the perfect naturalist poet, and Whitman meets the perfect description of what Emerson describes in prose. Emerson says:

The poet, the orator, bred in the woods, whose senses have been nourished by their fair and appeasing changes, year after year, without design and without heed, -- shall not lose their lesson altogether, in the roar of cities or the broil of politics. Long hereafter, amidst agitation and terror in national councils, -- in the hour of revolution, -- these solemn images shall reappear in their morning lustre, as fit symbols and words of the thoughts which the passing events shall awaken.

Whitman's poetry seems to echo Emerson's prose. Whitman again in number 2 writes, "The delight alone, or in the rush of the streets or along the / fields and hill-sides."

Whitman and Emerson see the beauty of nature everywhere, the streets, the hills, the woods. Emerson writes that the key to power for a poet is in nature and its beauty, a fact not lost in Whitman's "Song of Myself." Emerson says,

At the call of a noble sentiment, again the woods wave, the pines murmur, the river rolls and shines, and the cattle low upon the mountains, as he saw and heard them in his infancy. And with these forms, the spells of persuasion, the keys of power are put into his hands.

Whitman once again as if echoing Emerson accept in verse rather than prose writes, "Seasons pursuing each other, the plougher ploughs, the mower / mows, and the winter-grain falls in the ground. / Off on the lakes the pike-fisher watches and waits by the hold / in the fozen surface; / the stumps and thick round the clearing the squatter strikes / deep with his axe."

Whitman was able to put into verse the beauty Emerson, and for that matter Emerson's buddy Thoreau as well, pot into prose. If you listen to either writer being read by a decent reader, and close your eyes, you will swear you can hear, and smell nature. Reading these writers makes a person feel like they have experienced the wonders of the woods and nature back in the nineteenth Century. Emerson writes: "Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things? Throw a stone into the stream, and the circles that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence." Walt Whitman did, and was most likely influenced greatly by the words of Emerson.

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