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American Influences of Walt Whitman

American Influences of Walt Whitman In his poems and life, Walt Whitman celebrated the human spirit and the human body. He sang the praises of democracy and marveled at the technological advances of his era. His direct poetic style shocked many of his contemporaries. This style, for which Whitman is famous, is in direct relation to several major American cultural developments. The development of American dictionaries, the growth of baseball, the evolution of Native American policy, and the development of photography all played a part and became essential components of Whitmans poetry. Walt Whitman was an avid reader of dictionaries, which he realized were the compost heap of all English-language literature. It was the place where all the elements of literature were preserved, as well as the place out of which all future literature would grow. The nations unwritten poems lay dormant in that massive heap of words. Whitmans own poem, This Compost, played on the etymological meaning of the word compost with the word composition. The denotative meaning of both of these words is to place or set together. To compose is to put together in a new form. To compost is to take apart what was put together, and to break down an old form so that it would supply the parts for a new form (Folsom 15). Whitman was living during a time when it was possible to watch the growth and expansion of the American language, and to see the increasing distance between it and its British source (Allen 53). Whitman was most familiar with the 1847 edition of Websters Dictionary. He depended on this one as he developed his notions of language and as he wrote the first poems of Leaves of Grass. It is in this version of the dictionary that we most clearly find the definitions of words that would become keys for Whitmans poetic projects (Folsom 14).For Whitman, in certain ways, American culture became a language experiment. His fascination in culture was gr...

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