American Bards: Walt Whitman and Other Unlikely Candidates for National Poet
Walt Whitman has long been regarded as the quintessential American bard, the poet who best represents all that is distinctive about life in the United States. Whitman himself encouraged this view, but he was also quick to remind his readers that he was an unlikely candidate for the office of national poet, and that his working-class upbringing and radical take on human sexuality often put him at odds with American culture. While American literary history has tended to credit Whitman with having invented the persona of the national outsider as the national bard, Edward Whitley recovers three of Whitman's contemporaries who adopted similar personae: James M. Whitfield, an African American separatist and abolitionist; Eliza R. Snow, a Mormon pioneer and women's leader; and John Rollin Ridge, a Cherokee journalist and Native-rights advocate.
These three poets not only provide a counterpoint to the Whitmanian persona of the outsider bard, but they also reframe the criteria by which generations of scholars have characterized Whitman as America's poet. This effort to resituate Whitman's place in American literary history provides an innovative perspective on the most familiar poet of the United States and the culture from which he emerged.
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African Americans amalgamation Ameri American bard American culture American literature American poetry antebellum argued audience bardic believed Bible biblical Book of Mormon Broadway Pageant Calamus Calamus poems California called celebration city’s civilization claim commemorative poetry continent cosmopolitan crowd Delany depicted earth edition of Leaves Eliza embrace emigrationists Erkkila European exile Father Folsom Fourth of July Frederick Douglass Free-Soil geography global globe identified imagined Indian indigenous Japanese ambassadors Joaquin Murieta John Rollin Ridge land landscape Latter-day Saints Leaves of Grass liberty literary lyric man’s Martin Delany Mother narrative national bard national identity nationalist Native Americans newspaper nineteenth-century persona poem poet poet’s poetic political polygamy population prophets published race racial readers representative Ridge’s roughs sacred past similarly slavery Snow Snow’s song America space tion United Utah Territory Walt Whitman Whit white aboriginal white and Native Whitfield women working-class writes wrote York