Walt Whitman

A wax recording of Whitman in 1890

Today is Walt Whitman‘s birthday (1819 – 1892).

Frye in The Modern Century:

When the Romantic movement began, there was one important primitive influence on it, that of the oral ballads, which began to be collected and classified at that time.  The oral ballad makes a functional use of refrains and other strongly marked patterns of repetition, which correspond to the emphasis on design in the primitive pictorial arts.  The fact that it depended for survival on an oral tradition meant that whatever personal turns of phrase there may originally have been in it were smoothed out, the poem thus acquiring a kind of stripped poetic surface quite unlike that of written poetry.  The literary ballads which imitate these characteristics — the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge, Blake’s Mental Traveller, Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci — come about as close as poetry can come to reproducing directly the voice of the creative powers of the mind below consciousness, a voice which is uninhibited and yet curiously impersonal as well.  This was also the “democratic” voice that Whitman attempted to reproduce, and Whitman is the godfather of all the folk singing and other oral developments of our time which cover so large an area of contemporary popular culture.  (CW 11, 54)

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