Whitman’s Universal Appeal

I find the Latin American embrace of Whitman interesting, yet surprising.  As I’ve made clear, I knew little about Walt Whitman before this class, so his universal appeal strikes me as somewhat strange.  The poems we read today seem to hail Whitman as some kind of prophetic voice for all people.  I always considered Whitman a poet of the American identity and experience; however, reading these poems coupled with our discussion in class about the idea of transnationalism, I realize how wrong I am.  Whitman was a poet who strove to reveal the universality of the human experience.  We are all different, and that is a great thing, but we all share the basics of human life.  The fact that these Latin American poets crave Whitman and continue the legacy of his voice proves how influential he is to all people, not just Americans.  Anaya, particularly, in “Walt Whitman Strides the Llano of New Mexico” tells us the effect the discovery of Whitman had upon him.  Whitman is necessary, his poetry helps children to find their own voice: “Save our children now!…Put Leaves of Grass in their / lunch boxes!  In the tacos and tamales!”  While this is a humorous extreme, it showed to me the importance of poetry to Latin Americans in general.

Thinking about the appeal of Whitman to Latin American poets, I wanted to look at Jorge Luis Borge’s “Camden, 1892”.  When I first read it, my surface analysis of the poem was that it was an interesting look at someone’s daily life, “Sunday and its monotony”.  However, as I looked at it closer I noticed the sonnet form and made connections between the descriptions of poetry in the beginning and the look in the mirror at the end and the realization that “The end is not far off…/ I’m almost gone and yet my verses scan / Life and its splendor”.  I looked up the title and learned that Whitman died in 1892 in Camden, New Jersey.  So, this poem looks at Whitman’s death but acknowledges that his verses, and thus the man, will live on and continue to influence.  The fact that this poem was written in 1975 shows the continual influence Whitman has, whether in the freedom of his voice or the call to poetry, like for Anaya.  I keep discovering new Whitmans, but I know there are many more to experience.

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