Date of Award

Spring 1957

Document Type



Languages & Literature

First Advisor

Virginia Shaddy


Walt Whitman is one of the most controversial figures in literature. There rages around his personality and poetry ardent debate, 30 that, as yet, hardly anything definitive has been written. As a personality, he has been accused of homosexuality, auto-sexuality, and at the same time, of having fostered six illegitimate children. As a poet, he has suffered charges of writing nothing other than sprawling prose. Discussion of his influences and sources often takes a wild turn in some critics, and in others it is often too limited. The author has ignored the first of these topics as extraneous to this study. The second she has attempted to prove fallacious. The third, she discusses briefly.

It is the purpose of this paper to take a representative work of Walt Whitman’s poetry, to analyze it, particularly one part of it, to discuss it in relation to poetical standards, and in relation to Whitman himself, and to his times, thus posing it as a work of art. This method is called Explication de textes — a French mode of unification that has been used for centuries and is still being used in French high schools and universities as a clear and logical method of presentation. The present writer chose this method as the only one possible in avoiding the many pitfalls and facets of Whitmanian controversy. Explication de textes, moreover, isolates one small and distinctive part of a larger work, showing that its characteristics embody all of the traits of the poet’s major work, and all of the important characteristics of his personality, life, environment and age, as well as showing forth those enduring elements which belong to the ages — and to a great work of art.