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Walt Whitman: The Androgynous Voice Essay

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Walt Whitman is an icon in American literature. His works are well read and well received by poets who came after him. Whitman’s popularity was not solely hinged on the genius that he is in penning his thoughts in verses and lines. But it was also because of the fact that there is something distinctly different about Whitman’s style, particularly the orientation of the gender of the speaker in his different poems. Literary analysts often break down the writing style of writers and poets.

In this particular discussion, it is important to integrate Walt Whitman and his efforts towards representing himself as an omniscient voice narrating the poem who is both man and woman and whether he is successful in that endeavor or not. Critics and analysts can begin with the breakdown of the poem Leaves of Grass, one of Whitman’s very popular poems. In this poem, many critics were in agreement that Whitman here was speaking in alternating voices and positions; as a male speaker being that he is a man; and the first person writer and narrator, before shifting towards his female narrative voice.

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It was detected by critics and analysts of Whitman’s works largely because of the touch of femininity and the tone of woman-like conversation in some parts of the poem. “Leaves of Grass… represent the poet’s attempt to ‘keep hidden from himself both his homosexual impulses and his sexual confusions (Jensen, 2002, p. 114). ” Jensen (2002) also mentioned Whitman’s repressed feminine voice in another one of Whitman’s poetry – I Stopped Somewhere Waiting for You – which again featured Whitman’s usage of a male and female speaker in the narrating of poem as it speaks to the readers.

Also, take for example the poem Unfolded Out of the Folds. In this poem, there is a feeling that he is speaking both as a man and a woman; as a man who understands the cyclical development that involves the acceptance of the presence of the essence of woman inside him; and as a woman who is celebrating the strength she finds in the realization of her significance in life and in the life of man.

Critics attribute to Whitman’s attachment to feminine ideals, not to mention what some analysts believe to be the author’s gender crisis, Whitman’s outright or sublime tone of androgyny in this poem. “Given that Whitman saw himself as responding to a spiritual as well as gender crisis in is time, it is not surprising that his recurrent near-obsession with the maternal body persisted, for he hoped that the trope of the maternal body might provide an alternative to the violence of patriarchal language (Pollak, 2000, p.182).

” Some of Whitman’s less popular poems (compared to Leaves of Grass) also hint the presence of alternating male and female voice in the poetry. Like the poem After the Supper and Talk, wherein it seems like the speaker is sometimes the man, who notices the “emotional lips repeating (Jensen, 2002, p. 114)”, and sometimes the woman, who narrates the sorrow of watching someone dear to her leave, without the prospect of returning.

While at Ages and Ages Returning at Intervals, Whitman’s use of the term “phallic’ and the last line “offspring of my loins’ confuses the readers as to the gender of the speaker (the first term was male-centered while the last line of the poem was alluding to a woman giving birth). This was the same dilemma in Among the Multitude, where Whitman speaks sans the clear orientation of the tone of the speaker’s voice – making it difficult to ascertain whether the speaker and the tone of the poem refers to a male or female speaker. Conclusion

There are many critics and literary analysts who believed that Whitman’s poetry featured the author’s double-gendered or androgynous speaker. There are many reasons why such was the case. Some believe it was the product of sexual repression, while others believe it was prompted by Whitman’s sexual and gender confusion. Others point to the impact of both men and women in Whitman’s consciousness. While others believe that Whitman was purely an innovator who helped reshaped drastically the manner by which American poetry is written, read and appreciated.

Regardless of the reasons and the established idea of Whitman’s male and female representation and voice in some of his poems, what will not change is the fact that Whitman was one of the corner stones of American poetry because of his brilliant, vision, style and creativity with words.

References

Jensen, Beth (March 2002). Leaving the M/Other: Whitman, Kristeva and Leaves of Grass. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. Pollak, Vivian R. (August 2000). Erotic Whitman. University of California Press.

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