Whitman, Pearce and the Intangible Painting

“I act as the tongue of you… tied in your mouth . . . . in mine it begins to be loosened.”
Walt Whitman

I want to respond to the quote by Roy Harvey Pearce that introduces the W Blog. According to Pearce, “the history of American poetry could be written as the continuing discovery and rediscovery of Whitman, an ongoing affirmation of his crucial relevance to the mission of the American poet: which is, as it is everywhere, simply to tell us the truth in such a way that it will be a new truth, and in its newness will renew us and our capacity to have faith in ourselves, only then together to try to build the sort of world which will have that faith as its necessary condition.”

Here, Pearce insinuates that Whitman and the substance of his poetry acts as a canon for American poets not simply for his ideas or the mere style of his works. Instead Whitman challenges the very meaning of it all, intentionally or unintentionally, generating both questions and answers, reasons and concerns in an effort to contain the multitude, yet stand alone as its own. What I mean by this is Whitman believed that poetry in itself existed for, with and through the presence of men. He saw himself as a sort of canvas for an intangible painting.  I chose to include Whitman’s quote above  because I feel that it greatly affirms and conveys what Pearce asserts. Pearce claims that the very history of American poetry can be attributed to the continued discovery of Whitman in some way. When one references a discovery, it is highly unlikely that what is discovered is easily accessible or abundant. People discover artifacts, unknown lands, cures, etc. More so, to discover is also defined as to realize or notice.

So…within the context of these two very different definitions, it can be assumed that not only does the American poet constantly gain knowledge of the uncommon and unknown of Whitman’s poetry, but he also continuously recognizes Whitman in everything (for he “is large and contains multitudes”).  Whitman is the voice of the carpenter, the prostitute, the child, the environment, the war, the drums; yet he himself recognized that although tongues may begin to be loosened through him, power ultimately rested in the hands of the individual, which is why I believe Pearce was convinced that those things revealed to us by Whitman would “renew us and our capacity to have faith in ourselves,” that will one day act as the foundation of of both our physical and mental world. Whitman generates truths with the newness Pearce suggest and with the ambiguity that lures us toward that intangible painting, finding ourselves along the way.

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1 Response to Whitman, Pearce and the Intangible Painting

  1. Anton Vander Zee says:

    I love the phrase “canvas for an intangible painting.” It works so well with the watercolor you chose for your picture there…

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