As a father of free verse, Walt Whitman breaks the limits of the general poetic form, and in general, his poems are prose-like. Even though he did not invent the free verse form, he uses it effectively in his poem that gains fame among the readers. He uses profound imagery in his poems, including debris, rotten leaves, and everything in nature, especially what he considers as nature, which includes sexuality, including prostitution, and death. He reflects and mirrors the nature and the world around him because he strongly believes there is a symbiotic relationship between poet and world. He rightly says in his preface to “Leaves of Grass,” “The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it” (Leaves of Grass, Preface). This connection between poet and society is powerfully emphasized in almost all of his poetry, especially in “Song of Myself” and “Song of the Open Road” through first person narration. Even though his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” does not have a first person narration, it reveals his presence as he mirrors the world. The similarities of these poems lie in its theme of identity. In these poems, Walt Whitman use of language is magnificent, which has language of common people as well as the language of the profession. The free verse form helps him to produce his thoughts and ideas effectively without worrying about the usual historic form of a poem.
Imagery in Whitman’s Poems
In the poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Whitman reveals his power of imagination and effective understanding of sensory perceptions through his imagery. To symbolize the universal motion of space and time, he uses the image “ferry” that continually moves forward and backward. The majestic imagery in the poem is “flying sea-gulls.” Even though he concentrates mostly on nature in almost all of his poems, he focuses mostly on urban city because he feels everything in and around him (people, animals, and inanimate things) is nature. Through imagery, he paints many pictures of the several scenes and sites he has enjoyed while aboard the ferry. From the “Twelfth-month sea-gulls” to the “large and small steamers in motion,” he efficaciously depicts the fires from the chimney, the different ships, and reflection of the sun perfectly.
As other poems of Whitman, “Song of the Open Road” is also profoundly filled with imagery. The word “road” itself is imagery for life through which one can find his/her identity. This imagery is to symbolize the most valuable thing for an individual to lead his/her life peacefully and happily, which is nothing but the freedom.
Whitman’s Poetic Diction
The most surprising and the richest thing in the poem “Song of Myself” is its diction. Walt Whitman chooses his language from various phases of written and spoken language that is available: “the blab of the pave,” which is nothing but the speech of the streets, vocabulary of the pulpit and law, the speech of the crafts, the vocabularies of the technology and science, and the languages of the professions. Walt Whitman in his “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” employs connotative diction. He cautiously selects certain words and phrases that can connect him to the world and readers. The words “Simple” and “compact” chosen by Whitman describe the “scheme” that disintegrates human lives.
When he writes his poem “Song of the Open Road,” Walt Whitman himself is probably feeling the similar situation to the words in his poems. Walt Whitman use of language is magnificent, which has language of common people as well as the language of the profession. The free verse form helps him to produce his thoughts and ideas effectively without worrying about the usual historic form of a poem. The imagery “road” in this poem is a thing that everyone uses at least once in a life, whether they are poor or rich, that has the association with life and links it with the people selection of life. Thus, it forces all levels of people to associate with one another.
Theme of Identity in Walt Whitman’s Poems
“Song of Myself” is a vast epic in which “identity” is the central theme even though the term occurs only twice in the poem. The universal “soul,” Whitman’s everyday personality, and the inner “self” are the components of his personal identity that splits into three. To him, his experience and the identity are not private that are connected to the feelings of the other people and animals in the world. As he identifies himself with the world around him, he can experience the pleasures and pains of the people, animals, and inanimate things in the world. He also expresses human needs to preserve his personal identity. Still, he connects his universal “self” with the divine “self.”
Similarly, in his another poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” he tries to identify himself in the world around him. Whitman does not reveal his presence as a speaker, but shows himself as a mirror of the world. To understand the identity of one, he feels that the body is the key. Thus, Whitman says, “I too had received my identity by my body” (Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, 60). This poem by Walt Whitman celebrates a democracy and a communion based on the place and the person’s identity in it. He arranges a utopian, democratic space, in which everyone can unite and leads a life associated with nature and world.
In the poem “Song of the Open Road,” Walt Whitman expresses his theme of identity through the word “I” or the first person narrator. Even in this poetry, Whitman finds his identity in the world that makes him say, “You express me better than I can express myself” (Song of the Open Road, 48). Freedom occupies the first place in the list of themes in this poem. Identity of a person lies in the freedom of the person’s expression and action. In this poem, Walt Whitman personifies identity in the form of freedom. In the words of Whitman, it is clear that the open road can provide him an opportunity to select his path not only in road, but also in life: “The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose” (Song of the Open Road, 3).
Whitman’s themes and language in his poetry are democratic. As Whitman keeps away his poems from the usual historical way of poems, everything is fair game for a poem. Whitman is pertained with classifying the new way of American life he feels and sees that growing around him. Therefore, Whitman breaks new ground in his theme and diction. This extends to a different obscuring of the limits between the world and the self and between private and public. Whitman chooses situations and spaces, such as cities, the out-of-doors, journeys, that grant for equivocalness in these aspects. He uses profound imagery in his poems, including debris, rotten leaves, and everything in nature, especially what he considers as nature, which includes sexuality, including prostitution, and death. He reflects and mirrors the nature and the world around him because he strongly believes there is a symbiotic relationship between poet and world. In these poems, Walt Whitman use of language is magnificent, which has language of common people as well as the language of the profession. The free verse form helps him to produce his thoughts and ideas effectively without worrying about the usual historic form of a poem. Walt Whitman uses descriptive and vivid language, imagery that occupies a special place in his poetry. In his poem “Song of the Open Road,” “Song of Myself,” and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Walt Whitman can enter into the minds of others and mirrors the life of others and the world.
Whitman, Walt. Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. New York: Paravion, 2011. Print.
Whitman, Walt. Song of Myself. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2001. Print.
Whitman, Walt. Song of the Open Road. Santa Cruz, CA: P&D Thomas, 2011. Print.