Walt Whitman Writings Perhaps the most basic and essential function of poetry is to evoke a particular response in the reader. The poet, desiring to convey on emotion or inspiration, uses the imagination to create a structure that will properly communicate his state of mind. In essence he is attempting to bring himself and the reader closer, to establish a relationship. William Carlos Williams contends that “art gives the feeling of completion by revealing the oneness of experience” (194) This argument relies on the precept that art is reality is not nature or a reflection of nature but a completely original creation. And additionally, that art is holistic, where one can experience the whole of reality through a particular.
A poet’s task is to write poetry that the reader can identify with, something congruent with the thoughts of those he is writing for (or to). If this can be accomplished, a connection is established, and poetry can act as a catalyst to initiate the imagination. In my first paper this semester I argued that Whitman uses sexual imagery as a rhetorical tool to arouse the reader. The result of this is congruent emotions within poet and reader that demonstrate an effective use of tone, through which Whitman can address the reader. “The mystic deliria, the madness amorous, the utter abandonment,/ (Hark close and still what I now whisper to you” (77).
Whitman is specking directly to the reader, through an all-encompassing god-like persona. In “Song of Myself” Whitman reinvents himself as all of reality, and through the use of tone and imagery (shot establishes a relationship) draws the reader into his world. Williams’ poetry is an attempt to establish a communion, of sorts, with the reader, as well. His poetry is an exploration of momentary images, a jagged journey through personal perception, that the reader can relate to. Williams’ diction and visual presentation of words resists the artificial; his poetry has a rhythm that is natural and American, a gregarious appeal to the common man. In Spring and All Williams creates a persona that is appealing, establishing a relationship and affecting the reader.
Both Whitman and Williams create a harmony between themselves and the reader that suggests the universality of experience. The creation of an acceptable persona is essential to Whitman’s poetic program. In “Song of Myself” this is accomplished through a congenial style that consists of unbridled enthusiasm, a friendly voice; an image emerges of Whitman shouting at the reader, saying “Look what I’ve discovered!”: “Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,/ You shall possess the good of the earth and sun” (25). His poetry is often conversational, lacking a highly structured form. From the beginning of “Song of Myself” it is clear that the poem is not merely a static, decorative creation, but that it is an act of communication between the poet and reader.
When Whitman writes “what I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (23), he implies a meeting of minds; not only is he going to address us but he is going to persuade us’ because, he argues, we are all the same. He establishes a persona by not only speaking to us, but for us. Whitman becomes one with his audience, the American people’ by presenting himself as the “archetypal average American” (xxvii). The persona that one senses emerging from Williams in Spring and All is a justified arrogance, a writer that will completely ignore convention in order to establish a tone. His mixture of verse and prose suggests a pragmatic technique, a willingness to use whatever means necessary to connect with the reader. In “Flight To the City,” he explores imaginative associations connected with the night sky, and follows it with the statement, “So long as the sky is recognized as on association” (187).
He speaks to the reader with sincerity, with an enthusiasm that often descends into madness: If I could say what is in my mind in Sanscrit or even Latin I would do so. But I cannot. I speak for the integrity of the soul and the greatness of life’s inanity; the formality of its boredom; the orthodoxy of its stupidity. Kill! Kill! let there be fresh meat . .
. (179) Spring and All is a map of Williams’ imagination, a collection of poems cemented by “prose” explanation. He wants to leave no doubt about what he is expressing, presenting himself as his own critic. Like Whitman, the reader becomes part of Williams’ persona through an expression of the universality of thought, an “approximate co-extension with the universe.” For Williams the reader would ideally enter the world of his poem so completely as to become lost, having no separate identity from that of the poet. In the imagination, we are henceforth (so long as you read) locked in a fraternal embrace, the classic caress of author and reader. We are one. Whenever I say “I” I mean also “you.” (178) To accomplish this the poet must evoke in us the ability to identify with the external world, and consequently the world of his poem.
Williams’ use of imagery encourages on attentiveness of imagination within the reader. In “Spring and All,” he describes the creation of images in the mind, within a lifeless wasteland: “One by one objects are defined-/ It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf . . . rooted, they/ grip down and begin to awaken” (183).
The image of the leaf becomes a metaphor for the growth of an image within the mind. What Williams is calling for is no less than a reconnection with the external world – a simple response to a simple image. In “The Red Wheelbarrow” even metaphor seems absent. Williams is concerned with the basic creation of an image; his poetry is a sort of minimalism, containing only the essentials – a very concrete image that will convey a tone. In “The Red Wheelbarrow,” the poet presents a single image: The setting is probably a farm. The Red Wheelbarrow is stark; it is a bright color, distinct, man-made.
The chickens are white, indistinct, insubstantial, auxiliary. It has just rained: there is a sense of rebirth, new life. The tone may be summarized as clarity, newness, affirmation of reality. And “so much depends upon” (224) this image. Williams creates images that are easy to convey yet profoundly substantial.
They are not really metaphors, but through their “realness” suggest the oneness or congruity of reality. Whitman’s presentation of the external world is an effort to create images that are democratic in their natu …