Symbolism in Whitman's Poem

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Symbolism in Whitman’s Poems

A number of influences operated upon Walt Whitman (1819-1892) from childhood which inspired him to become a poet. His father’s democratic ideas went a long way towards making him a poet of democratic ideals. He expressed his ideas about democracy, love, sex, mysticism and science in his poems. While expressing his ideas he used symbols from nature, such as grass, plants, birds and heavenly bodies, enabling readers to understand his ideas clearly. “Indirection is an important aspect of the technique of communication of a mystic” (Briggs). In his poems he has made use of indirection and symbolism, as well as sensuous and concrete imagery in a highly sophisticated manner, to convey his perceptions.

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The grass In The Leaves of Grass” certain images that appear again and again in the process, acquire a wealth of suggestion and thus become symbols of major significance. For example, the very title is symbolic. Grass grows not only in single blades but also in clusters or clumps. Thus it becomes a symbol of democracy in which “individuality is in balance with the mass, distinguished singleness in harmony with massive grouping”. The grass occupies the central position in the book, and it recurs in strategic sections where it springs up to the fore with renewed life. It symbolises in its simplicity the miracle of the universe, the fact that the mystery of life and nature lies not in the far away and the wonderful, but in the familiar and the common. Therefore, a leaf or blade of grass is an

Language in India 12: 6 June 2012 Premalatha, M. A., M. Phil., Ph.D. Candidate Symbolism in Whitman’s Poems


object of contemplation for the poet, and it launches him into his mystic journey. Indeed, the grass in Whitman’s poetry has as many meanings as there are blades or spears. The calamus plant In the Calamus section, the calamus plant or grass symbolises the intimacy of friendship. It grows not everywhere like common grass, but in “paths untrodden”. Anyone familiar with the long, tapering leaves and the cylindrical flower of the calamus plant will recognize the phallic symbolism immediately (Miller). Whitman seemed to acknowledge the ambiguity of the
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