Walt Whitman

The Romantic and the Realist

When was he born?

Walter "Walt" Whitman was born on May 31, 1819.

Where did he grow up?

Whitman grew up in Brooklyn, NY.

What kind of education did he receive?

He received a limited formal education.

What else did he do besides writing poetry?

When he wasn't writing poetry, Whitman worked as a printer, schoolteacher, reporter, and editor.

"Are you the new person drawn toward me?"

Are you the new person drawn toward me?

To begin with, take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose;

Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?

Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?

Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?

Do you think I am trusty and faithful?

Do you see no further than this façade, this smooth and tolerant manner of me?

Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?

Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?

I chose this poem because it portrays new relationships in a warning light. Fresh attraction is naive and blind. Whitman recognizes this and halts the reader, telling her to stop and think that maybe he isn't what he seems on the surface. The poem is honest in an almost roundabout way.


Free verse


You should learn before you love.

Whitman develops this theme by asking question after question with an almost condescending or rhetorical tone, as if talking to a child who dropped a vase and didn't expect it to break.

"Are you the new person drawn toward me?" reminds me of Poe's "A Dream Within a Dream". Both question the fabricated surface covering the reality underneath.

American Romanticism Characteristics:

Whitman's poem draws inspiration from emotion, such as love. He does, in a way, allude to Realism in that he talks about the truth behind the falsity, but he applies Romanticism by questioning that falsity rather than directly stating the truth.

"O Captain! My Captain!"

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

     But O heart! heart! heart!

       O the bleeding drops of red,

          Where on the deck my Captain lies,

              Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

     Here Captain! dear father!

       The arm beneath your head!

          It is some dream that on the deck

             You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse or will,

The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship come in with object won;

     Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

       But I with mournful tread,

          Walk the deck my Captain lies

             Fallen cold and dead.

I really like this poem. It's dedicated to Abraham Lincoln in that it refers to his assassination and the effect it had on not only the people of the United States, but his loyal soldiers. The poem is a mournful celebration and exaltation of Lincoln's leadership, and the victory he brought before his death. Like the poem, he did not die until he saw the victory and survival of the Union.


Free Verse


Great leaders are celebrated in life and death.

Whitman develops this theme by starting the poem with victorious imagery and ending the first stanza on the somber note of the Captain's (Lincoln's) death. The second stanza is set up the same way, but the third stanza starts with a sad tone, changes to the victorious tone once again, and then reverts to the sad tone. Whitman is simultaneously mourning and celebrating the Captain.

"O Captain! My Captain!" reminds me of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address". Both share a common theme of celebrating the greatest sacrifice a man could make: the sacrifice of his life for a greater good.  

American Romanticism Characteristics:

The entire poem is a metaphor alluding the dead of Abraham Lincoln. It draws inspiration from the sorrow of his death and the pride of his accomplishments before it, both very powerful emotions. The pride is also an example of nationalism, a staple characteristic of American Romanticism, although the time period in which it was written was more so one of Realism.

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