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Long before Walt Whitman wrote Leaves of Grass, poets had addressed themselves to fame. Horace, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton, and Keats all hoped that poetic greatness would grant them a kind of earthly immortality. Whitman held a similar faith that for centuries the world would value his poems. But to this ancient desire to live forever on the page, he added a new sense of fame. Readers would not simply attend to the poet’s work, they would be attracted to the magnificence of his personality. They would see in his poems a vibrant cultural performance, an individual springing from the book with tremendous charisma and appeal. Out of the political rallies and electoral parades that marked Jacksonian America, Whitman defined poetic fame in relation to the crowd. Others might court the muses on Mt. Parnassus or imagine themselves in the laureates’ sacred grove. Whitman’s poet sought the approval of his contemporaries. In the turbulence of American democracy, fame would be contingent on celebrity, on the degree to which the people exulted in the poet and his work.


This article is from the preface of Walt Whitman and the Culture of American Celebrity by David Haven Blake. I feel like I got the gist of this writing. To Whitman as well as other great poets, it's important to write a great poem for a earthly immortality of work, but what's more important for that is to be a popular man for the public.

Is it right?

But I can't understand this part and the sentence structure exactly.

They would see in his poems a vibrant cultural performance, an individual springing from the book with tremendous charisma and appeal.

First, on the content side, was the author intended to say that the writer himself/herself should be contained in there work as a main character with those characteristics?

They would see in his poems a vibrant cultural performance, an individual springing from the book with tremendous charisma and appeal.

Second, in a structure side, is a vibrant cultural performance in apposition with an individual (springing from the book with tremendous charisma and appeal)? If so, I wonder how performance could be an individual.


Another question is here, too : )

In the turbulence of American democracy, fame would be contingent on celebrity, on the degree to which the people exulted in the poet and his work.

Why is fame dependent on celebrity in the unstability of American democracy?

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    Such an awesome question. The undertone, as I read it, is to put yourself (personality) in your writing, using the language of your time, so that your poems are more than a clever arrangement of words. – lurker Jan 15 '16 at 6:57
  • Sort of like a character: the persona of the author. The projected identity of the author. Since Whitman was singing about the soul in all of us, celebrity would be a confirmation of the truth of the song, and that he had found a language and mode of expression that could reach Everyman. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 15 '16 at 14:26
  • And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 15 '16 at 14:33
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The general sense I get from this passage is that before Whitman, poets were writing for posterity, and that they hoped to join the pantheon of "great poets" because of their work, whereas Whitman was the first to try to be well-known to the masses while he was still alive.

They would see in his poems a vibrant cultural performance, an individual springing from the book with tremendous charisma and appeal.

This portion of the sentence is indicating that the poems themselves were the vibrant cultural performance. The confusion, I believe, lies in the fact that while often when you talk of something being "in" a poem it refer's to the poem's content, this is using a different sense of the word "in". In this case, it is more akin to saying "I find in my hobbies an outlet for my frustrations." - which is a way of saying that the hobbies themselves are the outlet, not that the outlet is a portion of the hobbies.

They would see in his poems a vibrant cultural performance, an individual springing from the book with tremendous charisma and appeal.

This again does not refer to an individual who is part of the story of the book, but rather the character of the author being so charismatic and appealing that his use of language, choice of subject, etc, would be obvious just from reading the book - as if his essence were "springing out" at you.

In the turbulence of American democracy, fame would be contingent on celebrity, on the degree to which the people exulted in the poet and his work.

In this case, "turbulence" is not necessarily instability but rather chaos. Consider this pot of boiling water:

Pot of boiling water

Its flow is turbulent, but stable - there's no chance that the water will explode or spill or anything like that. While "fame" and "celebrity" have very similar meanings, I think the author is trying to convey that becoming famous in American society requires a strong personality so that you stand out from the crowd. I believe the implication is that things are chaotic and ever-changing, and so you need to be a consistent source of entertainment to maintain your fame.

  • Wow, how can I explain how much I thank you? THANK YOU SO MUCH!! – anotherworld Jan 24 '16 at 12:36

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