Troubadours‟ Poetry for the Quest of „Liberty‟
SIDI SAID, Fadhila
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Whitman was the second of eight children born to an alcoholic father. The family was often in economic difficulty and moved several times between the city of Brooklyn and the country around Huntington, Long Island. Whitman joined the work force early, no doubt to help care for and feed his large family. The poet‟s eldest brother spent his last years in an asylum. The youngest brother spent his life mentally retarded and physically handicapped. A third brother died early of alcoholism and tuberculosis. Leaves of Grass in its final rendering is structured to reflect the poet‟s life. It Begins with „One‟s –Self I sing‟ and ends with „Good-Bye My Fancy‟. They are strategically placed between poems reflecting two traumatic periods in Whitman‟s personal life, the loneliness of the years 1857-60 when he sought personal love, and the Civil war, when the poet witnessed the carnage of his „divine average‟. He states: I went down to the war fields in Virginia (end of 1862), lived thence forwards in camp - saw great battles and the days and the nights afterward – partook of all the fluctuations, gloom, despair, hopes again arous‟d, courage evoked – death readily risk‟d – the cause, too – along and filling those agonistic and lurid following years, 1863 – ‟64 –‟65 – the real parturition years (more than 1776 – ‟83) of this hence forth homogenous Union. Without these three or four years and the experiences they gave, “Leaves of Grass” would not now be existing. (1990: 434) As a poet he emerged in the 1850s to assert a truly American voice, one that celebrated the American landscape, the American people, their speech and democratic form of government. In 1848, he took a trip to the southern city of New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, that great waterway flowing through the heart of the country. There Whitman gained a new vision of America and began writing poetry that would embody this vision. In 1855, he published a ground-breaking book called Leaves of Grass. The poet lived a long bachelor life where poetry was a vital element in their lives. In the case of Whitman, it was a quest for „nationality‟. Whitman considered his trip round the States as a revelation for him as an American. His trip to New Orleans, Chicago and the Western frontier gave him a new vision of America. It was the first time that he saw the American Continent. This experience provided him with a sum of visual and auditory memories, pictures and emotions that fed his imagination and that he later expressed in his work. So, he began writing poetry that would embody this new American vision. The experience was regenerative for him. Thus, the Whitman who returned was no longer a mere newspaper editor but he was the poet of Leaves of Grass. He considered himself as a seer and a prophet; he was convinced that he had revelation from God. He describes himself in one of his poems entitled “So long”: Screaming electric, the atmosphere using …………………………………………… Curious envelop‟d messages delivering; ……………………………………………. Myself Unknowing, my commission obeying, to question it never daring As he considers himself as God‟s voice, his poems are just songs that show his wonder towards the magnificence of the world. His „cosmic Spirit‟ gives him the ability to see things as part of the whole universe. This „cosmic Spirit‟ can be detected in all his poems especially in “Song of Myself”.