Wordsworth and Whitman

William Wordsworth says in his “Advertisement” to Lyrical Ballads that poetry must be diverse in its subject matter. This must not be evident due to the writing of critics, but in the poetry itself. The poems, he says, are experiments, applying lower/middle class conversational language rather than superior language often used in classical and formal like Lord Alfred Tennyson and William Shakespeare. In the “Preface,” Wordsworth explains how he is experimenting by mixing formal verse with informal language. This idea reminded me of a more modern poet, Dana Gioia, who does something similar in his collection, “Interrogations at Noon.”

In “The Mad Mother,” Wordsworth seems to use, for the first four lines of each stanza, iambic tetrameter, stating, “Her eyes are wild, her head is bare/ The sun has burnt her coal-black hair.” There is, to begin, an AABB rhyme scheme. But later in the stanzas, particularly the first, Wordsworth states, “She has a baby on her arm/ Or else she were alone/ And underneath the hay-stack warm/ And on the green-wood stone.” This style uses a line of iambic tetrameter, followed by a line of iambic trimeter, with a CDCD rhyme scheme. This style I recognize from poets like Lord Tennyson. The stanzas then conclude with two lines of iambic tetrameter, and an EE rhyme scheme. Each stanza is, therefore, a decimal or similar, a traditional Spanish form. The poem seems to be talking about a mother breast-feeding in madness, drawing on the concept that Wordsworth stated in his advertisement that the poems, while using specific and superior meter and form, would discuss ironically dark or lower-class matters.

The poem, “Old Man Travelling,” has no rhyme scheme for the most part. The poem mostly uses iambic pentameter, despite starting with a line of iambic trimeter. The poem draws along a depressing theme that men are, remain, and die loners. Death is dealt with in specific meter, once again adding irony that something so lyrical discusses subjects so dark.


Walt Whitman draws upon similar themes of lower class in his “Preface” to Leaves of Grass. He talks about how the United States is “essentially the greatest poem.” This because, he says, its genius is not in the higher class, but in its common people. He then goes on, in short, to describe the greatest poet as, in his words, the lover of the universe. I lose his interpretation of poetry in his definition of America and Liberty. His preface does not discuss an experiment, but an assertion of the United States’ role in poetry, and the poets’ hope to unify them as one collective being. To be honest, he is praising the idea of the American poet in his humanism while asserting himself as the greatest by default.

To suggest the latter, Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” celebrates himself. It is in free verse and broken into 52 sections. After reading his preface, I am not surprised by its length. It often discussed “loafing in grass,” and is very sexual. Themes often include farm and rural life. The sections of this lengthy poem will often ask questions, or make proclamations through extensive use of exclamation. I cannot divide each section of the poem into its own unique purpose or theme. I do, however, appreciate the use of anaphora, referring to, for example, section 31, 33, and many others. Was first bothered by what I saw as egotism. But this is spurred by his connection with his individual identity, a trait common with the Transcendentalist era. It seems that, through his Preface and poetry, if he can argue that the lower-class American poet is the greatest sector of poets. I see the awesome nature of his raunchiness and extensive imagery. I would probably see myself as more minimalist than Whitman, but am intrigued by the research he puts into the individual soul.

Advertisements