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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: December 2014

Chapter 20 - Dialect, Doggerel, and Local Color

from Part II - A New Nation: Poetry from 1800 to 1900


Walt Whitman devoted his career to defining and enacting a new poetics that would be distinctive to the American nation and its democratic aspirations. Whitman's influence has extended well beyond poetry. He has been examined seriously by political scientists and cultural theorists as a philosopher of democracy, and he has been a central figure in gay history and queer studies, often credited with inventing the language of homosexual love. Whitman's notebooks and surviving manuscripts reveal the intensity and fluidity of the development of his poetic style. He was teaching Americans how to begin to think and speak democratically, in a freer and looser idiom, in a more conversational and less formal tone, in an absorptive and indiscriminate way. Major historical events like the Civil War and Reconstruction had a palpable effect on the physical makeup of his books.