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American Bards

Walt Whitman and Other Unlikely Candidates for National Poet

Edward Whitley

Publication Year: 2010

In this ms Whitley works to defamiliarize and so explore in a fresh way the literary landscape of the mid-19th century into which Whitman emerged. He explores how the idea of a national poet resonated at that time as well as how Whitman stepped into that role. To accomplish this, Whitley traces the histories and literary achievements of three other antebellum poets whose names are not nearly so well-known but whose work paralleled Whitman’s in unexpected ways: James M. Whitfield, Eliza Snow, and John Rollin Ridge. He puts their work in dialogue with Whitman’s poetry--both as it functions now and as it reflected and affected the literary landscape of 19th-c. America. Each of these American poets adopted a posture similar to that of Whitman’s antebellum persona of a social outsider who audaciously claims to be a representative national bard. Rereading Whitman’s place in the nationalist literary milieu of the 1850s through Whitfield, Snow, and Ridge suggests cultural alternatives to the nation-centered discourse that has come to characterize received notions of the antebellum period.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xi

American Bards tells the story of three antebellum poets whose names are seldom, if ever, mentioned in the same breath as that of Walt Whitman, despite the fact that their respective projects for American poetry ran parallel to Whitman’s own. At one time or another, each of these poets adopted a...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am grateful for the opportunity to dedicate this book, in part, to the many teachers in whose classrooms I have been privileged to sit over the years. Of all these teachers, however, to none do I owe more thanks than Robert S. Levine and Martha Nell Smith of the University of Maryland. Their support...


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p. xv

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pp. 1-20

When William Michael Rossetti credited Walt Whitman with being “the one man” in America to have created a school of distinctively national poetry, he nurtured the persona that Whitman himself had already cultivated as the “solitary singer” of the United States. As Whitman...

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1. The Poet of Slaves

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pp. 21-65

In early August 1848, the first national convention of the newly formed Free-Soil Party took place in Buffalo, New York. Those in attendance were a mix of former Democrats, Whigs, and Liberty Party members who, for various reasons, opposed the extension of slavery into territories...

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2. Poet of a New American Religion

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pp. 67-112

In September 1879 Walt Whitman was visiting Denver, Colorado, as part of a trip to the western United States that included stops in Lawrence, Kansas, and St. Louis, Missouri. Almost twenty years earlier Whitman had written in the poem “A Promise to California” that...

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3. The First White Aboriginal

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pp. 113-153

For the first half of 1865, Walt Whitman was working as a clerk at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. He appears to have enjoyed the job, which offered him a steady paycheck, a flexible work schedule, and the opportunity to meet with the Native American delegates...

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4. An American, One of the Roughs, a Kosmos

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pp. 155-190

In the early fall of 1855, Walt Whitman wrote and published three anonymous reviews of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, a bold and audacious move intended not only to generate publicity for his book but also to instruct critics and potential readers on how they were to receive it...


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pp. 191-211


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pp. 213-233


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pp. 235-248

E-ISBN-13: 9781469606354
E-ISBN-10: 1469606356
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807834213
Print-ISBN-10: 0807834211

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 676698517
MUSE Marc Record: Download for American Bards

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Subject Headings

  • Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 -- Appreciation -- United States.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
  • Poets, American -- 19th century.
  • Whitfield, James Monroe, 1822-1871.
  • Snow, Eliza R. (Eliza Roxey), 1804-1887.
  • Ridge, John Rollin, 1827-1867.
  • Whitman, Walt, -- 1819-1892 -- Influence.
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