Harriet Monroe



A Word About Walt Whitman


Literatur: Monroe
Literatur: The Critic
Literatur: Whitman-Rezeption


THE PERSISTENCE of prejudice is illustrated by various phases of Walt Whitman's reputation at home and abroad. In spite of the appreciative sympathy of fellow-poets who feel the wide swing of his imagination and the force of its literary expression, in spite of the tardy acknowledgments of critics who have gradually learned to find power and melody in some of his rugged verse, it cannot be said that the venerable bard is widely honored in his own country. Songs which celebrate the toils and pleasures of the masses have thus far found small audience among the common people of the nation, being read chiefly by the cultivated few. Aristocratic rhymesters, weavers of triolets and madrigals, have reached a greater number of humble homes than this prophet of democracy, and the toilers of the land care more for jingles than for the barbaric majesty of his irregular measures. The poet of the people is neglected by the people, while the works of scholarly singers like Longfellow and Bryant find a place in every farmer's library.

Humanity does not enjoy the scientific method of reasoning from facts to theories, preferring unphilosophically to adjust the facts to its preconceived ideas. In this country we are proud of the swift conquests of civilization, and too willing to forget the free simplicity and uncouth heroism of pioneer times. We boast of our borrowed culture and keep our truly great achievements in the background. We look forward to a powerful future and too often obliterate the memory of a valiant past, allowing details to slip unrecorded into oblivion which might serve as the foundation of epics as majestic as Homer's. Reason about it as we will, Americans have an instinctive feeling that the formative period of the national character should be out of sight and out of mind as soon as possible, so that our virgin republic may at once take a place of assured wisdom among the gray and hardened dames of the old world, decked like them with the splendid trophies of twenty centuries of civilization.

Walt Whitman tries to arrest this ill-directed current of false vanity, to reveal to the nation her true glory of physical and moral prowess, to unveil a superb figure of strong and courageous youth playing a new part in the world with all of youth's tameless energy and daring. He finds her achievements beautiful and heroic, worthy to be celebrated and immortalized by art, and feels that the adornments of culture and civilization must be gradually wrought out from her own consciousness, not imitated from outworn models or adopted ready-made. Thus he strives to discard from his singing all the incidents of American life which are not indigenous to American soil, bringing himself closely in contact with the primeval elements of nature and of man.

Long I roamed the woods of the North – long I watched Niagara pouring;
I travelled the prairies over, and slept on their breast – I crossed the Nevadas, I crossed the plateaus;
I ascended the towering rocks along the Pacific, I sailed out to sea;
I sailed through the storm, I was refreshed by the storm.

Then from the majesty of ocean and plain to the higher majesty of cities: –

What, to pavements and homesteads here – what were those storms of the mountains and sea?
What, to passions I witness around me to-day, was the sea risen?

The glory of cataracts and thunders, of crowds and wars, appeals to him for utterance, and with the scrupulous loyalty of a true poet he does his utmost to answer the call. Whether his answer is adequate or not, we must honor his fidelity. The spirit of modern criticism becomes too finical, too much a command that the aspirant should fling away ambition, should be content with pleasant little valleys, and avoid the unexplored heights where precipices and avalanches threaten to destroy. This spirit is a blight upon all high endeavor, and he who resists it and travels upward, even though he fall exhausted by the wayside, achieves a nobler success than a thousand petty triumphs could have brought him.

It is too soon for the world to decide how far this barbaric poet has fulfilled his mission. At present the mass of his countrymen brush aside his writings with a gesture of contempt, finding there what they most wish to forget – a faithful reflection of the rudeness, the unsettled vastness, the formlessness of an epoch out of which much of our country has hardly yet emerged. But theirs is not the final verdict; their desire to be credited with all the decorative embellishments which older states enjoy may yield when ours shall have won these ornaments and learned to regret the old unadorned strength and simplicity. Races which have passed their youth appreciate these vigorous qualities, which put them once more in touch with primitive nature, with the morning, with the wisdom of children, which is, after all, the serenest wisdom. Thus in England Walt Whitman's singing has thus far been more effectual than at home. There his work humors the prepossessions of the people, who find in him the incarnation of young democracy. To minds puzzled by the formality of other American poets, by Longfellow's academic precision, Whittier's use of time-worn measures, and Poe's love of rich orchestral effects of rhythm, Whitman's scorn of prosodical rules and of the accepted limitations of artistic decorum brings the revelation of something new in the brown old world. They greet him as a poet fresh from the wilds of which, to their persistent ignorance, both Americas are still made up. To them his songs seem as free and trackless as his native prairies, revealing once more the austerity and joyousness of primeval nature, so different from their elaborate civilization. It is possible that the next century of our own national life may find the same relief in his open-air honesty and moral ruggedness. It may turn to him to gain ideal comprehension of the forces which peopled this continent and redeemed its wastes from barrenness. His poetry is unruly and formless, but so were the times it mirrors – no harmony of fulfilment, but a chaos of forces struggling and toiling together for the evolution of a great nation. He sweeps the continent and gathers up all he finds, good, bad and indifferent, serenely conscious that to omniscience all is good, that to omnipotence all is important. The result is not art, perhaps; for art chooses and combines, gives form and life and color to nature's elements of truth. Art realizes the limitations of our finite humanity, appreciates our poverty of time for the multitudinous objects of thought, and indulgently omits all that is trivial and inessential from her epitome of truth. What does not emphasize she discards; to her fine judgment an hundred details serve but to weaken the force of one. Thus Walt Whitman may never be called an artist. What he finds he gives us with all the exact faithfulness of an inventory. In the mass of his discoveries there is much that is precious, many a treasure of rare and noble beauty; but its beauty is that of rich quartz, of uncut jewels, rather than that of the coin and the cameo. He offers us a collection of specimens from the splendid laboratory of nature. It will scarcely be strange if the future guards them in cabinets instead of circulating them far and wide among the people.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Critic.
A Weekly Review of Literature and The Arts.
Bd. 17 (New Series), 1892, Nr. 530, 16. April, S. 231.


Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The Critic   online
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000057828
URL: https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/serial?id=thecritic






Literatur: Monroe

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Ehlers, Sarah: Making It Old. The Victorian/Modern Divide in Twentieth-Century American Poetry. In: Modern Language Quarterly 73.1 (2012), S. 37-67.

Newcomb, John T.: Would Poetry Disappear? American Verse and the Crisis of Modernity. Columbus, Ohio 2004.

Newcomb, John T.: Poetry's Opening Door: Harriet Monroe and American Modernism. In: Little Magazines & Modernism. New Approaches. Hrsg. von Suzanne Churchill u. Adam McKible. Aldershot, England 2007, S. 85-103.

Newcomb, John T.: The Emergence of "The New Poetry". In: The Cambridge Companion to Modern American Poetry. Hrsg. von Walter Kalaidjian. Cambridge 2015, S. 11-22.

Newcomb, John T.: The Twentieth Century Begins. In: The Cambridge History of American Poetry. Hrsg. von Alfred Bendixen u.a. Cambridge 2015, S. 497-518.

Olson, Liesl: Chicago Renaissance. Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis. New Haven 2017.

Price, Kenneth M. / Schöberlein, Stefan (Hrsg.): The Oxford Handbook of Walt Whitman. Oxford 2024.

Schulze, Robin G.: The Degenerate Muse. American Nature, Modernist Poetry, and the Problem of Cultural Hygiene. Oxford 2013.



Literatur: The Critic

MacLeod, Kirsten: American Little Magazines of the Fin de Siecle. Art, Protest, and Cultural Transformation. Toronto u.a. 2018.

Sherbo, Arthur: Matters English in The Critic (1881-1906). In: The Review of English Studies, New Series. 39.154 (1988), S. 245-257.
URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/516655

Sherbo, Arthur: John Greenleaf Whittier in The Critic, 1881-1892. In: Studies in Bibliography 43 (1990), S. 222-238.
URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40371930



Literatur: Whitman-Rezeption

Allen, Gay Wilson / Folsom, Ed (Hrsg.): Walt Whitman & the World. Iowa City, IA 1995.
URL: https://whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/pdf/anc.01049.pdf

Asselineau, Roger: The Acclimatization of Leaves of Grass in France. In: Utopia in the Present Tense. Walt Whitman and the Language of the New World. Hrsg. von Marina Camboni. Rom 1994, S. 237-263.

Bamberg, Claudia: Einströmende Dinge. Hugo von Hofmannsthal und Hermann Bahr als Leser des amerikanischen Lyrikers Walt Whitman. In: Literaturkritik.de. Nr. 7, Juli 2013, S. 16-22.
URL: https://literaturkritik.de/id/18117

Bennett, Guy / Mousli, Béatrice: Poésies des deux mondes. Un dialogue franco-américain à travers les revues, 1850 – 2004. Paris 2004.

Eilert, Heide: "Komet der neuen Zeit". Zur Rezeption Walt Whitmans in der deutschen Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts. In: Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur 17.2 (1992), S. 95-109.

Erkkilä, Betsy: Walt Whitman Among the French. Poet and Myth. Princeton, NJ 1980
S. 239-250: Chronological List of French Criticism of Whitman since 1861.

Grünzweig, Walter: Constructing the German Walt Whitman. Iowa City IA. 1995.

Harris, Kirsten: Walt Whitman and British Socialism. 'The Love of Comrades'. New York 2016.

Higgins, Andrew C.: The Poet's Reception and Legacy. In: A Companion to Walt Whitman. Hrsg. von Donald D. Kummings. Oxford 2009, S. 439-454.

Price, Kenneth M. (Hrsg.): Walt Whitman. The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge 1996.

Rumeau, Delphine: Fortunes de Walt Whitman. Enjeux d’une réception transatlantique. Paris 2019.

Rumeau, Delphine: Whitman, antidote à Mallarmé. In: Revue des Sciences Humaines 340 (2021), S. 85-100.
URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rsh/373

Thomas, M. Wynn: Transatlantic Connections. Whitman U.S., Whitman U.K. Iowa City, IA 2005.

Zanucchi, Mario: Expressionismus im internationalen Kontext. Studien zur Europa-Reflexion, Übersetzungskultur und Intertextualität der deutschsprachigen Avantgarde. Berlin u. Boston 2023.



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer