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Oliver Curtis March 5, 2012 English III Honors

Influences of Imagery and Figurative Language: How can one man have such a lasting influence on literature in America? Walt Whitman, who did just that, was an American poet who lived during the 19th century. Some of his more popular poems include:Song of Myself and Oh Captain! My Captain, both of which are located in his self-published book, Leaves of Grass. Though at first [Leaves of Grass] stirred little interest in the literary world, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of it as the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet produced (Merriman). As a result of his nontraditional style, Whitman played a major role in the revolution of typical 19th century literature into the literature present in modern culture. Whitman utilized many poetic techniques in his writing; however, his use of imagery and figurative language are first and foremost. The descriptive language Whitman used to portray scenes and images embeds distinctly stereotypical Romantic qualities into his writing. In I Hear America Singing, it says, The carpenter singing as he measures his planks or beams/The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work (Whitman 3-4). This excerpt is a good representation of how Whitman took ordinary, not necessarily pleasant, actions like carpentry work and romanticized it into something honorable, something worth singing about. I Hear America Singing consists mainly of a catalogue describing the working class and their everyday labor. Rather than depicting the harsh, hard working conditions present at the time, Whitman chooses to focus on the beauty of each

individual in their social station. Despite the romanticized themes of his poem, Whitman maintains a believable and effective setting. The use of imagery in Whitmans works also helps to illustrate the setting of his poems to a greater extent. For example, in Song of Myself, it says, The hounded slave that flags in the race, leans by the fence, blowing, coverd with sweat/The twinges that sting like needles his legs and neck, the murderous buckshot and the bullets (Whitman 12-15). This reference to the treatment of a runaway slave puts great emphasis on the Civil War time period, where slavery was a controversial issue. Whitmans trademark diction, vivid and expressive, can be categorized as one of the leading popularity contributors for his poetry. Another representation of his distinct imagery can be found in each stanza of Song of Myself, describing the wilderness and mountains to a Yankee clipper on a river and onward. Instead of giving a vague, general setting, Whitman provides multiple, specific settings for each stanza, each with their own specific mood. Whitmans intuitive use of imagery and rhetorical devices influences the mood of his poems as well. In many of his poems, Whitman seeks for the reader to feel or visualize what the narrator, which is himself quite often, is feeling or experiencing. One illustration of this is, I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of dogs/Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the marksman (Whitman 16-17). These two lines from Song of Myself give the reader an insight of the despair and hopeless determination of slavery, shadowing the poem in a much darker mood. With the change of imagery in Whitmans poetry, comes also a change in mood. Song of Myself starts out care-free and light-hearted; yet, as it begins to progress towards the fourth and fifth

stanzas, it grows much darker and more serious. This gradual contrast of moods serves as a good model for America during this time period, especially with the conflicting Union and Confederacy. The descriptive analysis of his surroundings and the rhetoric he used are essentially the most important parts to Whitmans poetry, due to the fact that they influence almost all of the other literary elements present. Through the use of these two literary elements, Whitman expresses Romantic ideals, especially inspiration from nature, strengthens the settings of his poetry, and influences how the literature effects the readers. From the examples in Whitmans writing, at the time considered unorthodox, the value of vivid diction and imagery and its effect on a piece of literature can be determined.

Works Cited Oliver Curtis

Merriman, C.D. Walt Whitman. The Literature Network. Jalic Incorporated. 2006. Web. 5 March 2012. <>

Whitman, Walt. I Hear America Singing. Elements of Literature Fifth Course. Ed. Richard Sime, Austin, Texas: Holt, Rineheart and Winston, 1999. 352. Print.

---. Song of Myself. Elements of Literature Fifth Course. Ed. Richard Sime, Austin, Texas: Holt, Rineheart and Winston, 1999. 353-359. Print.