Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Lanier, Sidney (1842–1881)
Author:
Berkove, Lawrence I.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Sidney Lanier was a poet, musician, and literary theoretician who sought to emphasize the relationship between poetry and music. He is today remembered for a few notable poems which embody the theories he advanced in The Science of English Verse (1880).

Whitman criticized Lanier's poetry primarily for favoring the sound of words rather than the sense. When Lanier first carefully read Leaves of Grass in 1878, he promptly wrote Whitman a letter opposing his views on artistic form but nevertheless praising Leaves for being a strikingly beautiful "modern song" (qtd. in Starke 307). Lanier regarded the poetry of Leaves as being rhythmic, despite Whitman's beliefs. In lectures written in 1881, Lanier continued to take exception to Whitman's artistic principles and also disagreed with him on what constituted true democracy, yet again lauded his poetry for its "bigness and naïvety" and singled out "My Captain, O my Captain" [sic] as "surely one of the most tender and beautiful poems in any language" (Lanier 39).

Both Lanier and Whitman were significant experimenters in poetic technique. Lanier's conception of melody in poetry was conventional, Whitman's revolutionary, but both achieved it on their own terms.

Bibliography

Brooks, Van Wyck. The Times of Melville and Whitman. New York: Dutton, 1947.

Faner, Robert D. Walt Whitman & Opera. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1951.

Lanier, Sidney. The English Novel. Vol. 4 of Centennial Edition of the Works of Sidney Lanier. Ed. Clarence Gohdes and Kemp Malone. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1945.

Starke, Aubrey Harrison. Sidney Lanier: A Biographical and Critical Study. 1933. New York: Russell and Russell, 1964.


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