Walt Whitman – Realism/Romanticism

Today’s topic to discuss dealt with Walt Whitman, and the connections made between his works, particularly, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, and the periods of Realism and Romanticism. The romantic period examines the dark side of human nature and deals with the unconscious. Whereas, the realistic period, focuses on a particular scenario that is common as well as prevalent within any society.  Also, Romanticism relates to the idea that everything is more individual, which is the very beginnings of what we call, psychology. The Civil War, which occurred in the 1800s, portrayed an American economy that became more based on the cities, and work based opportunities were reflected in urban life. During this time period, in Europe, the author, Victor Hugo, the writer of Les Miserables, began to slowly shift the scene and moved towards Realism. A perfect example would be Washington Square, because it is about a timid woman that could be seduced by a handsome man. The realistic part of this novel is the fact that Henry James, the author of Washington Square, depicts real life.

Walt Whitman’s poem, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, doesn’t only discuss the journey people take everyday by means of the ferry, but takes the experience, and give his own unique perspective. He talks about how it relates him to future generations because in a way we are all related. We are all one, and we are all having this big common experience. The commonality of humanity is exemplified through the people riding the ferry everyday, enabling Walt to ennoble the experience. The tone when describing this experience is pleasant, and he uses repetitive words to say that the experience is beautiful.

During the 1860’s in the U.S, the Civil War happens, and the society as a whole as a result of the war, is quite confused because of the emancipation of slavery. The economy has to be reworked because it was heavily based on slavery and these once enslaved individuals, now go to the north to look for jobs. This imagined grace in the South suddenly, goes away, and the people who want to stay and work the land have to get a hold of it. The industrial aspect of the United States consists of: factories, mechanized labor, and the farm equipment is more sophisticated. Community is based on the urban capitalist system. The fact that these men and women who are now not oppressed anymore visiting the city and seeing big factories is quite cool and awesome to think about. Whitman elevates it in his poetry and at the same time he is creating imagery that is the equivalence of the beauty of the farmland. His poetry creates an idealized image of America that is made by the working person. I was surprised to find out that Walt is a gay man. But, he is a very big guy with an extraordinary face, representing both realism and idealism.

Whitman’s poetry, image, and idealism are larger than life; he is a very ecstatic man. When people started talking about the idea of homosexuality, Walt was represented as a quandary. He couldn’t be open about his sexuality, so Mr. Whitman put it in his poetry. In Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, he is symbolically addressing people on the ferry, (close distant), and also talks of future riders and clouds of the west (far distance). As one can see, there is a two-pronged perspective, which brings depth. With his words, he is creating a double landscape and by using repetition it makes his ideas very powerful and personal. After we finished discussing Walt Whitman’s life and Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, we heard a song by, Bob Dylan called, “Hard Rains Are A-Falling,” and through the repetition of sounds, I was able to draw a distinct connection with this song to Walt Whitman’s work. I am starting to develop a liking for poetry, and I’m looking forward to studying it more and more.