The Lunar Light of Whitman's Poetry

The Lunar Light of Whitman's Poetry

by M. Wynn Thomas
     
 

Walt Whitman stands freshly illuminated in this powerful portrait of the poet responding to his times.

Whitman's idealistic expectations of democracy were painfully eroded by the rapidly expanding urban capitalism that, before the Civil War, increasingly threatened the economic and political power of the ordinary American. His poetry during this, his most

Overview

Walt Whitman stands freshly illuminated in this powerful portrait of the poet responding to his times.

Whitman's idealistic expectations of democracy were painfully eroded by the rapidly expanding urban capitalism that, before the Civil War, increasingly threatened the economic and political power of the ordinary American. His poetry during this, his most fruitful period, became the indispensable medium allowing him to adjust to these developments. He succeeded in portraying this modern society as an invigorating natural extension of the artisanal order. After the war, however, American capitalism advanced at a pace that made it impossible for Whitman to redeem it through his poetry. His imagination defeated by realities, he invested more and more in dreams of the future, while his poetry turned to the past, Memory emerging as a central figure.

In this many-sided analysis Thomas relates Whitman's work to American painting of the period; examines the poet's evocation of nature, which he sometimes saw as a challenge to man's confidence in himself; documents the revisions and additions Whitman made to Leaves of Grass in order to demonstrate that "my Book and the War are One"; and pays sympathetic attention to the postwar poetry, usually slighted.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The ``lunar light'' is not the glow of imagination but of the social and political contexts that Whitman's verse indirectly reflects. Thomas argues that Whitman's commitment to the values of his artisan classof a nation of free but cooperative individuals controlling their own destinywas superimposed on the actual economic conditions of growing monopolistic capitalism to produce poems at once ``critical, celebratory, and visionary.'' After the Civil War this superimposition became increasingly untenable, and the poems accordingly suffered by having their vision deferred to some vague future. This powerful thesis is convincingly but repetitively argued, and while well supported by the poems themselves, it rarely illuminates their difficulties and beauties. A book of scholarly importance that requires discipline to read. Martin Bickman, English Dept., Univ. of Colorado, Boulder

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674539525
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
02/28/1987
Pages:
313
Product dimensions:
6.37(w) x 9.50(h) x (d)

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