Walt Whitman by David S. Reynolds | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

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by David S. Reynolds
     
 

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From the great events of the day to the patient workings of a spider, few poets responded to the life around them as powerfully as Walt Whitman. Now, in this brief but bountiful volume, David S. Reynolds offers a wealth of insight into the life and work of Whitman, examining the author through the lens of nineteenth-century America.
Reynolds shows how Whitman

Overview

From the great events of the day to the patient workings of a spider, few poets responded to the life around them as powerfully as Walt Whitman. Now, in this brief but bountiful volume, David S. Reynolds offers a wealth of insight into the life and work of Whitman, examining the author through the lens of nineteenth-century America.
Reynolds shows how Whitman responded to contemporary theater, music, painting, photography, science, religion, and sex. But perhaps nothing influenced Whitman more than the political events of his lifetime, as the struggle over slavery threatened to rip apart the national fabric. America, he believed, desperately needed a poet to hold together a society that was on the verge of unraveling. He created his powerful, all-absorbing poetic "I" to heal a fragmented nation that, he hoped, would find in his poetry new possibilities for inspiration and togetherness. Reynolds also examines the influence of theater, describing how Whitman's favorite actor, the tragedian Junius Brutus Booth—"one of the grandest revelations of my life"—developed a powerfully emotive stage style that influenced Leaves of Grass, which took passionate poetic expression to new heights. Readers will also discover how from the new medium of photography Whitman learned democratic realism and offered in his poetry "photographs" of common people engaged in everyday activities. Reynolds concludes with an appraisal of Whitman's impact on American letters, an influence that remains strong today.
Solidly grounded in historical and biographical facts, and exceptionally wide-ranging in the themes it treats, Walt Whitman packs a dazzling amount of insight into a compact volume.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A good, enlightening introduction to a still-controversial figure."—Booklist

"A compelling portrait of a great American poet..... Conveys Mr. Reynolds's capacious grasp of the literature about Whitman, his reading of the primary sources, and his own well-considered view of the man and poet."—Carl Rollyson, New York Sun

"Precise and provocative, learned and lucid.... Reynolds is eminently equipped for the task of reducing to a sonnet the epic of Whitman's life. A Bancroft winner, Reynolds knows the historical period (and the details of Whitman's life) so thoroughly that he can find the essence—the quintessence, really—of a vast complexity.... A concise and well-considered summary of the forces—biographical, social, cultural—that combined in fashioning our most original and democratic poetic voice."—Kirkus Reviews

"Reynolds skillfully illustrates Whitman's transformation into a poet and shows how he transformed various elements of his time (e.g., the Civil War, theater, philosophy, and science) into poetry. Modest but well rounded, this book ultimately delivers a portrait of a fleshy Whitman who sings."—Library Journal

"Walt Whitman found countless sources for his poetry in the astonishingly vigorous culture—high, middle, and low—of his day. No other living scholar is better equipped than David S. Reynolds to illuminate this rich web of connections. In this book, Reynolds takes the reader on a lightning tour of Whitman's world, from grand opera, phrenology, and political oratory to Bowery Boy fashions and the free love movement." —Michael Moon, Johns Hopkins University, author of Disseminating Whitman

"This highly readable introduction to America's greatest poet by one of his most knowledgeable and insightful biographers is a useful point of entry into Walt Whitman's work and the world that shaped it such important ways." —Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Stanford University, author of From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America

"In Walt Whitman, David Reynolds has distilled the key findings of his encyclopedic Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography and now makes Whitman's cultural life—and his transformation of that life into art—accessible to readers at all levels. Every page contains suggestions, discoveries, and insights that will send students back to Whitman's poetry with renewed enthusiasm. This is an innovative and illuminating introduction to Whitman and his work." —Ed Folsom, Editor, Walt Whitman Quarterly Review

Kirkus Reviews
A concise and well-considered summary of the forces-biographical, social, cultural-that combined in fashioning our most original and democratic poetic voice. Reynolds (English and American Studies/CUNY) is eminently equipped for the task of reducing to a sonnet the epic of Whitman's life. A Bancroft winner for Walt Whitman's America (1995), Reynolds knows the historical period (and the details of Whitman's life) so thoroughly that he can find the essence-the quintessence, really-of a vast complexity. After an opening chapter sketching the peripatetic poet's life (1819-92), the author examines clusters of influences that made Whitman Whitman. Among these are the Temperance Movement (Whitman published a novel on the subject, Franklin Evans, in 1842), the swirl and chaos and cacophony of urban life, the popular arts (especially the theater, oratory, painting, and photography), science and its next of kin (phrenology and mesmerism), philosophy (he read Swedenborg), religion, sex, war, and Lincoln. Whitman loved to hear the preaching of Henry Ward Beecher (who didn't?) but wouldn't permit any particular creed to circumscribe him. Reynolds properly credits the poet for his innovations in style and technique (poetry after Whitman no longer looked or sounded the same) and for his ambitious, surely quixotic, desire to encompass all experience in a word, a phrase, a poem. But Reynolds is no mere press agent for Whitman. He recognizes the ambiguities in the man, quoting, for example, a nasty social-Darwinist passage about race (from later in his life) that flatly contradicts the poet's earlier egalitarian views. And there are other troubling contradictions. Whitman believed, on balance, that theCivil War was a good thing (it cleared the air!) but did see, in grim and red detail (as a volunteer nurse), the horrors of this air-clearing. (Another Dec. 2004 volume from Oxford, Memoranda During the War, a selection from Whitman's journals during the war, edited by Peter Coviello, shows the range and capacity of the poet's sensibility.)Precise and provocative, learned and lucid. (12 b&w illustrations)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195170092
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
12/01/2004
Series:
Lives and Legacies Series
Pages:
176
Product dimensions:
8.30(w) x 5.60(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

David S. Reynolds is Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Among his many books are Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography, which won the Bancroft Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Beneath the American Renaissance, winner of the Christian Gauss Award. A regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review, he lives in Old Westbury, New York.

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