Walt Whitman Essay Questions

" Certainly, not all the questions presented in "Song of Myself" are so extremely direct as to use you.Yet the vast majority of the questions are clearly aimed at the reader, intended to elicit some type of response. These questions are posed with the intention of expanding the addressee's knowledge-- often through the work of the addressee him- or herself.

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This allowed Whitman's speaker to take on an all-knowing, omniscient persona, which in turn gave the addressee the role of a child or student.

This style of "platform poetry" is marked most by its use of rhetorical questions, aimed directly at the reader (Hollins 91).

" (line 32), "Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?

" (line 382), and the aforementioned "What are you?

Ezra Greenspan notes, "The journalistic style of intimate address to the reader was extremely common in the midcentury years. Indeed, directly addressing the "gentle reader" was also common among prose authors of the time. the engagement of the reader was more dynamic and lasting than it was with his major contemporaries, and more sincere and serious than with journalistic usage" (109).

Writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Linda Brent (aka Harriet Jacobs) often spoke directly to their readers, or in the very least made generalized appeals to their moral sensibilities. Whitman's poetry exuded more power than the works of his peers, both journalistically and literarily, in major part because of the way he approached his audience.He strove to reach the everyman, in fact so strenuously that he has been considered obsessive (Greenspan 109). the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or frame-work" (Mason 41).He saw his audience as perhaps the most important element of the poetry, saying "The reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem . Or, as he more bluntly put it, "To have great poets there must be great audiences" (Greenspan 127).Further, there is a tone to the speaker's words which give the reader the feeling of having inferior knowledge.Several lines actually refer to the addressee as "son," while others use metaphors of the teacher-student relationship ("Eleves, I salute you! / Continue your annotations, continue your questionings" (line 974-975)).Indeed, we know that this individual search for knowledge is meant as one of the major ideas behind "Song of Myself" because we are told so by the speaker as the poem nears its conclusion: "You are also asking me questions and I hear you,/ I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself" (lines 1223-1224).Yet, while the speaker claims to be unable to answer, the questions are also clearly not asked solely for the addressee alone to answer.Numerous reworkings and revisions were integral in creating every edition of Leaves of Grass as Whitman attempted to reach every reader most effectively.Yet at the same time that Whitman intended to address such a wide ranging audience, he also made certain assumptions about that readership.In particular, "Song of Myself" repeatedly poses such questions to the addressee.At various times, the speaker asks such things as, "Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?


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