Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Document

Title: Whitman in Brazil

Author(s): Maria Clara Bonetti Paro

Publication information: This piece originally appeared in Gay Wilson Allen and Ed Folsom, ed., Walt Whitman and the World (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995). It is reproduced with permission.

Whitman Archive ID: anc.00551


In 1889, on the occasion of a republican government replacing a monarchy in Brazil, Walt Whitman sent a "Christmas Greeting" to the South American country, welcoming his "Brazilian brother" into democracy (LG, 548). But not until the twentieth century did the new and rebellious perfume of Leaves of Grass reach Brazil, carried by symbolism and the avant-garde movements, mainly futurism and unanimism, which were flourishing in Europe during the first quarter of the century.

Literature in Brazil at the turn of the century was ruled by neo-Parnassians, neo-naturalists, and neo-symbolists, who emphasized rigid obedience to metric rules and Portuguese grammar. Beyond this there flourished an impersonal concept of art for art's sake that had grown artificial and outdated amidst a nationalistic climate that strengthened civic pride and the desire to find a personal voice for Brazilian literature. Even though good poetry had been written, Parnassianism, the dominant school, was incapable of coping with the increasing social, political, and cultural changes of the first decades of the new century that required new forms of expression. "To make rhymes in Brazil is still the best way not to be a poet," wrote poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902–1989) in 1923 (de Andrade, 32). Striving to change the situation, a new generation of writers had to wage long, hard battles that led, eventually, to poetic renovation and to the literary movement known as modernism (1922–1945).

The principle arena in this artistic struggle was the Municipal Theater in São Paulo, where the Modern Art Week Exhibition (the Brazilian equivalent to the American Armory Show) was staged in February 1922. The date had been deliberately chosen to make the overthrow of the archaic aesthetics coincide with the centennial celebration of Brazil's political independence. The period from 1922 to 1930 is correctly called "heroic" because both sides, the "traditionalists" (passadistas) and the "futurists" (as the modernists were known at that time), assumed militant and often extreme positions. Consider the following lines by writer and critic Sergio Milliet (1898–1966) regarding the position of those who wanted renovation: "We had to break everything, destroy, kill, bury, cremate. That is what we did from about 1921 to 1932" (Milliet, 240–241). Although Leaves of Grass was not well known at the time, Whitman's reputation was strong enough for him to be enlisted in the ranks of Brazilian modernism. Amazingly enough, in the first phase of Brazilian modernism, Whitman came to be respected by both of the opposing groups.

In the early 1920s Whitmanism had reached its greatest peak in France and remained influential throughout the decade (Allen, 287). It is no surprise that there was also a Brazilian "whitmanismo," for in the first decades of the century Brazil was culturally linked to France. Whitman's presence in French literature was then so strong that he was even included in a collection of contemporary French poetry entitled L'Anthologie de L'Effort, published in 1912 by Jean-Richard Bloch (Erkkila, 171).

Before the 1920s, Whitman was scarcely mentioned in Brazilian periodicals, and when he was, his name was frequently paired with French and Belgian symbolists. Leaves of Grass crossed the Brazilian border with a symbolist literary passport. Pointing out the importance of Belgian symbolism for the study of that movement in Brazil, critic Andrade Murici said that "the powerful Verhaeren prepared the road for a late but numerous Whitmanian seaquake" (Muirici, 1:44). In the 1920s in Brazil, Whitman's spirit, or his gospel, was easily found. He was the welcome spokesman of the modern world, the apostle of renovation in form and content, and one of the poets who could nourish what John Barth called a "literature of replenishment" after the exhaustion of the old aesthetic rules and principles.

References to the singer of the New World became increasingly more frequent in the debates that followed the Week of Modern Art. In an article that appeared in 1934, the essayist Sebastião Sampaio expressed regret about the delay of reciprocal cultural exchange between Brazil and the United States and added that "Whitman came so late that it was in fact Modernism that made his homage to Brooklyn Bridge [ponte de Brooklyn] known to the public" (Sampaio, 22). Due to Whitman's literary reputation and "contemporaneity," he was used by the passadistas as a shield against the attacks of those who accused them of being behind the times and by the futurists, for whom he was a spear, to encourage Brazilian literature to venture "in paths untrodden" (LG, 112).

Speaking for the passadista group, Angelo Guido, in a 1923 article entitled "Futurism," gave his own definition of this avant-garde movement and added that several passadistas had done exactly the same (Guido, 376–379). Whitman is included among the passadistas. On behalf of the futurists, Murilo Araújo, in the article "Futurismo e Estética Intencional," declared that he took pride in being called a futurist because "Verhaeren, the great, and Walt Whitman, the two best poets in the world, are called futurists by critics nowadays" (Araújo, 314–316).

In those days in Brazil, futurism was very often used in a broad sense. It was an antonym of traditional (passadista) and had almost nothing to do with the Italian movement founded in 1909 by Fillipo Marinetti (1876–1944). Nevertheless, futurism helped spread Whitman's work when Marinetti mentioned him among six other writers as a forerunner of his aesthetics. Despite the differences between Whitman and Marinetti, in some critical appreciations they were nevertheless paired as literary innovators.

For the embattled modernists who were trying to break down the rigid adherence to metric rules, Whitman offered a model of free verse. At a time when the modernists were trying to turn away from the poetic emphasis on the past, with its cultural allusions to Greek gods and mythology, Whitman was looked upon as the poet of the present and the singer of the common people and the modern world. And when, with nationalistic pride and suffering from an "anxiety of influence," they were trying to do without European models, Whitman was looked upon as a brother and as an escape from European influence. He was someone who, like Poe, had inverted the direction of influence between the Old and the New World, named "notre poete" by Valery Larbaud (Erkkila, 179).

It is not difficult to find extremely appreciative references to Whitman's work in publications of the 1920s. In the article "A literatura em 1920" ("Literature in 1920"), Alceu Amoroso Lima expressed a desire for a Brazilian Whitman: "The world of action can produce a Whitman. We have not had him yet, and our poetry continues to be a place secluded from everyday reality" (Lima, 12). In 1923 critic Tasso da Silveira (1895–1968) expressed the same wish: "I say 'our Whitman' and not just 'our great poet,' because it is a Whitman we long for; it is for a passionate singer who, in gigantic symphonies, would celebrate the new world that we are, the dawning of a new race we represent, the vastness of the place we have been given on the planet, and the multiform uproar of desire and dream which comes from our complex ethnic identity" (Silveira 1923, 151).

Unlike in France, where literary citizenship was conferred on the American poet, in Brazil Whitman was often regarded either as the singer of the New World (encompassing, therefore, the three Americas) or as a North American who could fertilize Brazilian or tropical leaves of grass.

Whitman's idealistic vision of America as a huge Bakhtinean marketplace where a poet-prophet, with cosmic consciousness, could transform everybody into comrades and equals in a "new city of Friends" was especially attractive to the Carioca spiritualist group of the symbolist magazine Festa, which published twelve issues in 1927 and 1928. The influence of Jules Romain's unanimism (1905–1914) and more specifically of Emile Verhaeren's poetry is also evident in this utopian vision, and many times Whitman and Verhaeren are mentioned together.

Among the members of Festa, Tasso de Silveira is the poet who most clearly embraces Whitman's prophetic gospel. He translated into Portuguese the first poem from Leaves of Grass to appear in Brazil: in the fourth issue of Terra do Sol (Land of the Sun) a Portuguese translation of "Poets to Come" ("Poetas que virão") was published anonymously (Silveira 1924, 35), and later Silveira acknowledged the translation as his. In the same issue, in "Notas e Comentátios," the same poem was presented in three other languages: in French, translated by León Bazalgette; in Italian, by Luigi Gamberale; and, in Spanish, by Armando Vasseur. The fact that the original English version was not given is an indication that many Brazilian writers read Whitman's poems in translation before reading them in the original version.

Whitman's impact on Festa is unquestionable. He was the only foreign poet represented in the first issue—a translation of Section 3 of "Salut au Monde!" (Silveira 1927, 12). In the fifth issue (February 1928), Sections 18, 21, and 24 of "Song of Myself" were published in anonymous translations again (no doubt also by Silveira) (Silveira 1928).

It is not difficult to see which topic of Whitman's "ensemble" was most cherished by the spiritualist members of Festa and by Silveira: the idyllic and optimistic vision of the natural, human, and social world. As for form, Silveira's free verse, which he began writing in 1926, corresponds more closely to the model given by Verhaeren, whose importance in his work and life he acknowledged several times. Although dressed up in Christian array, Whitman's diction is clearly perceived in most of Silveira's poems, from Alegorias do Homon Novo (Allegories of the New Man) (1926) to Cantos do Campo de Batalha (Battlefield Songs) (1945), and the latter book contains an overt allusion to Whitman in the poem entitled "Palavras a Whitman" ("Words of Whitman") (Silveira 1962, 204–206). In direct opposition to the misreading of Whitman as singer of all the Americas, Silveira—as an ephebe who tries to "complete" his "truncated precursor"—abounds in "tesserae" (to use Harold Bloom's terminology [Bloom, 49–73]). In his poetic tribute, Silveira calls Whitman the "wonderful incomplete" because, although he exalted the whole world, when he sang America he referred to only one half of the continent:



A outra metade que não advinhaste, não previste,
no fundidouro dos destinos misteriosos
se condensava
e vai surgindo agora
como algum virgem orbe que faltasse
ao equilibrio das constelções . . .


E assim, Poeta-Profeta,
ao lado de teu canto,
erque-se, por integrar-te, um canto novo:
—o canto da alma inquieta
do meu povo! (Silveira 1962, 204)




The other half that you didn't foretell or foresee
was condensing itself
in the melting pot of an unknown destiny
and is becoming visible
as a virgin orb that was missing in the balance of the constellations...


And so, Poet-Prophet
Beside your song,
Rising to join it, a new chant:
—the chant of the anxious soul of my people.


In spite of various readings or misreadings of Leaves of Grass, what is certain is that Whitman was part of the general literary consciousness in those days in Brazil. Even when references were made to the fact that Whitman was not well known, the tone was always one of regret.

The same high standards by which Whitman was judged in Festa are used by the so-called dynamic traditionalists, who gathered around writer and diplomat Graça Aranha (1868–1931). Among the members of that group, Ronald de Carvalho, one of Aranha's favorite disciples, unquestionably became the most Whitmanian writer with Toda a América (All the Americas), published in 1926. There is no doubt that Carfalho had Whitman in mind when he wrote Toda a América. In the general conception of the book, as well as in many of the poems, he echoed the American poet, or "completed" him, in a manner similar to what had been done by Tasso de Silveira. Whitman's "Americanism" was enlarged to include the three Americas. Cargalho's interest in the continent as a whole was not an isolated attitude but a reflection of Brazil's general awakening to a feeling of camaraderie toward its neighboring nations and an increasing interest in strengthening social and cultural ties with them. Brazilian intellectuals wanted to replace—or at least add to—their centuries of gazing across the Atlantic with an actual journey into the backlands of their own country and of the other American countries. They longed for an American discovery of America.

As soon as Toda a América was published, many writers would call attention to the similarities between it and Leaves of Grass. Although the "Americanisms" in Leaves of Grass and Toda a América are different, Whitman's impress is clearly present in several poems. In the poem "Brasil," for example, Carvalho echoes Whitman directly in idea and image and uses a mélange of passages from "Salut au Monde!" and "I Hear America Singing." He delights in cataloging what he hears by transporting his poetic self to different places in the country. Carvalho includes another poem that is connected to "Salut au Monde!," or more precisely to Section 4 of this poem, where Whitman describes what he sees. In "Entre Buenos Aires e Mendoza," Carvalho again makes use of the Whitmanian catalog and begins his lines with the repetition of "Eu vejo" ("I see").

There is in Toda a América another signal of indebtedness to Leaves of Grass. Both books have a poem entitled "Broadway." The urban crowd is their common theme, but whereas Whitman regards the passersby with empathy and transcendental interest and inquires into their private lives, Carvalho focuses on their external attitudes at the same time that he reveals a personal and impressionistic attitude toward them. The street which is taken as a lesson by Whitman remains unlearned in Carvalho's "Broadway."

As far as form is concerned, the two poets are most different, ironically, at precisely the moment when they seem most similar. Although Carvalho uses free verse in a manner that is reminiscent of Whitman, he frequently breaks up his lines, forming several verses; Whitman avoided such enjambment. By breaking up Whitman's end-stopped lines or thought rhythm, Carvalho also moves away from another key feature of Whitman's technique—the caesura. In its formal restraint, Carvalho's free verse is sometimes closer to Apollinaire's model. Nevertheless, when he sets his expansive lines with a relatively fixed initial structure, his verse resembles Whitman's. Just like Whitman's twenty-one-line delay of the main verb in "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," Carvalho withholds the verb in the first stanza of "Advertência" ("Warning") and writes a poem that clearly sounds Whitmanian:



Europeu!
Nos tabuleiros de xadrez da tua aldeia,
na tua casa de madeira, pequenina, coberta de hera,
na tua casa de pinhões e beirais, vigiada por filas de cercas paralelas, com trepadeiras moles balançando e florindo;
na tua sala de jantar, junto do fogão de azulejos, cheirando a resina de pinheiros e faia,
na tua de jantar, em que os teus avós leram a Bíblia e discutiram casamentos, colheitas e enterros,
entre as tuas arcas bojudas e pretas, com lãs felpudas e linhos encardidos, colares, gravuras papéis graves e moedas roubadas ao inútil maravilhoso;
diante do teu riacho, mais antigo que as Cruzadas, desse teu riacho serviçal, que engorda trutas e carpas;
Europeu!
Em frente da tua paisagem, dessa tua paisagem com estradas, quintalejos, campanários e burgos, que cabe toda na bola de vidro do teu jardim;,
diante dessas tuas árvores que conheces pelo nome—o carvalho do açude, o choupo do ferreiro, a tília da ponte—que conheces peolo nome como os teus cães, os teus jumentos e as tuas vacas;
Europeu! filho do obediência, da economia e do bom-senso, tu não saves o que é ser Americano! (Carvalho, 9–11)




European!
In the chess boards of your village,
in your small wooden house overgrown with ivy,
in your house with mallow and eaves, guarded by rows of parallel hedges with slowly climbing trees that swing and bloom;
in your dining room, close to the tiled stove that smells of pine resin and white poplar,
in your dining room, where your grandparents read the Bible and discussed weddings, harvests, and burials,
among your black and bulgy chests, full of fluffy wool and stained linen, necklaces, engravings, somber sheets of paper and coins stolen from useless wonders;
in front of the brook, more venerable than the Cruzadas of your providential brook where trouts and carps are fed;
European!
In front of your landscape, your landscape with roads, small backyards, steeples and boroughs that fits entirely in the glass ball of your garden;
in front of your trees that you know by the name—the oak by the dam, the poplar of the blacksmith, the linden by the bridge—that you know by the name just like you know your dogs, your donkey and your cows;
European! child of obedience, economy and common sense, you do not know what it is to be an American!


The striking parallels between both poets indicate that Carvalho had Whitman very much in mind when he wrote Toda a América. Although Carvalho claimed to be a poet integrated with his land, he never managed to get rid of European manners and taste, and he never became the poet he believed was necessary for America. The times when Carvalho used Whitman's gospel and form were precisely when he strayed from his model. He had not heard Whitman's advice in "Song of Myself" that "he most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher" (LG, 84), and he had not paid attention to Whitman's warning in "By Blue Ontario's Shore" that "rhymes and rhymers, pass away, poems distill'd from poems pass away" (LG, 350).

It was in São Paulo that Whitman's "yawp" was more clearly heard. Mário de Andrade (1893–1945), the most prominent figure in the first phase of the Brazilian modernist movement, was a careful reader of Leaves of Grass and a writer who showed interest in Whitman's poetry all his life. The marginal annotations he wrote on his volume of the centennial edition of Leaves of Grass reveal his careful reading of Whitman's work. Besides having Whitman's Complete Prose Works (1920), he had Léon Bazalgette's translation, Feuilles d'Herbe (1922), as well as the two other books the French critic wrote on Whitman: Le poèm-évangile de Walt Whitman (The Poem-Gospel of Walt Whitman) (1921) and Walt Whitman: l'homme et son oeuvre (Walt Whitman: The Man and His Work) (1908). He also had two German translations (by Karl Federn [1904] and by Gustav Landauer [1921]) and a Portuguese translation by Agostinho Veloso da Silva (1943). In a letter to poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, dated July 23, 1944, Andrade comments that he planned to read Whitman again to see if he might find some suggestions for Lira Paulistana, a book he wrote in the year prior to his death (Andrade 1988, 210).

Andrade's interest in Whitman is evident from the beginning of his career. Whitman is mentioned in both of the most important texts in which Andrade, who was considered the "pope of the Modernist Creed," explains his own aesthetic principles and the movement's aims. The first text is the preface to his book of poems Paulicéia Desvairada (Hallucinated City), published in 1922, and the second is the essay "A Escrava que não é Isaura" ("The Slave That Is Not Isaura"), published in 1925 (Andrade 1972, 195–300). There is only a single reference to Whitman in the preface (which he ironically calls "Prefácio interessantíssimo" ["The most interesting preface"]), suggesting that the reader should know the American poet, but Andrade mentions him four times in A Escrava. He calls attention to the effect of simultaneity, one of the characteristics of modernist poetry that is already present in Leaves of Grass (266–267). He also praises Whitman's thematic freedom and quotes "Starting from Paumanok": "I will make the poems of materials, for I think they are to be the most spiritual poems!" (217). Andrade could have mentioned several artists of the avant-garde movements who defended thematic freedom, but he preferred Whitman because of the spiritual basis of his "materials." Andrade also cherished Whitman's social concern and declared in his literary essay "O Movimento Modernista" that all his work represented a commitment to his time and land (Andrade 1974, 252). Although one can hear echoes of Whitman's work in various poems written by Andrade, he did not imitate the North American poet. To employ T. S. Eliot's terms, Andrade did not "borrow" from Whitman but "stole" from him whatever he needed, making it his own.

The same thing is true about another great artist, Jorge de Lima (1895–1953), who actually mentions the American bard in some poems, such as "A Minha América," published in Poemas (1927) and "Democracia," published in Poemas Negros (1947). The dates of these two books illuminate Whitman's literary reception in Brazil. In the 1920s critical and creative responses to his work were frequently found in books and literary periodicals. The same in not true in the 1930s. Political and social changes altered the focus of interest from poetry to prose and from aesthetics to ideology. Nevertheless, a second wave of Whitman enthusiasm began again in the 1940s when his "voice" was heard in Portuguese translations and books and when essays about the poet were published.

Substantial translations of Whitman came late in Brazil. Mário D. Ferreira Santos published Saudação ao Mundo e outros poemas (Salut au Monde and Other Poems) in 1944, and then in 1946 Oswaldino Marques, a distinguished poet in his own right (who in the same year published his Poemas quase dissolutos), published his translation of a few of the shorter poems of Leaves of Grass, Cantos de Walt Whitman. Marques's rendering was so fine that some critics said they had the impression of reading the original. Margues's own poetry was inspired by Whitman, especially the social message, but his form definitely remained his own. Another poet, Geir Campos, author of Rosas dos Rumos, published a brief selection of translations, Folhas de Relva (Leaves of Grass), in 1964, and then in 1983 brought out Folhas das Folhas de Relve (Leaves from Leaves of Grass). This popular book contained a larger selection of Whitman's poems, but only fragments of the longer poems were included. Its original three thousand copies sold so quickly that it was reprinted a second time in the same year and was reissued again in 1984, 1989, and 1990. Paulo Leminski's introduction to Campos's translation tended to radicalize Whitman, presenting him as the poet of the American Revolution and the first beatnik, the forerunner of Mayakowski, Rimbaud, and Marinetti, and a bold pioneer of the same kin as Jack London, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, and Malraux.

Whitman's revolutionary message was also what appealed to Gilberto Freire. In his O Camarada Whitman, published in 1948 (see selection 1), he saw Whitman above all as a champion of democracy, standing against not only the feudalism of Europe but also the feudal slaveholding system of the U.S. South as well as the industrial slavery of the North. He praised Whitman's sense of universal comradeship "in a manner at once Franciscan and Hellenic," without any of the "ethnocentric Hebraism that spread from the Hebrews to the Anglo-Saxon Protestants known as Puritans." He regarded the American poet as closer to such Spaniards as San Juan de la Cruz, Cervantes, and Ramon Llull than to his own compatriots. He even claimed that some of Whitman's lines in Leaves seemed themselves to have been translated from Spanish or Portuguese. In Freire's eyes, Whitman's Americanism was pan-human, not pan-American, and Whitman was thus on the side of the Argentinian statesman who proposed the generous concept of "America for humanity" rather than on the side of Monroe, who upheld the doctrine of "America for the Americans."

Leaves of Grass continues to attract Whitman's "Brazilian brothers," and books and articles on his work have appeared with some regularity over the past decades—most notably, perhaps, Irineu Monteiro's Walt Whitman: Profeta da América in 1984. In spite of the interest in Whitman's work shown by the Brazilian reading public, Leaves of Grass ("the permanent revelation," as poet Paulo Leminski calls it [Leminski, 7]) continues to await a complete Portuguese translation.


WORKS CITED

Allen, Gay Wilson. The New Walt Whitman Handbook. New York: New York University Press, 1975.

Andrade, Carlos Drummond de. "Na curva do caminho." Illustração Brasileira 38 (October 1923): 32.

Andrade, Mário de. Obra imatura. 2d ed. São Paulo: Martins; Brasília: INL, 1972.

——. Aspectos da literature brasileira. 5th ed. São Paulo: Martins, 1974.

——. A Lição do Amigo: Cartas de Mário de Andrade a Carlos Drummond de Andrade. 2d ed. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1988.

Araújo, Murilo. "Futurismo e Estética Intencional." O Mundo Literário (Rio de Janeiro) 3 (July 1922): 314–316.

Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Carvalho, Ronald de. Toda a América (com a versão espanhola de Francisco Villaespesa). Rio de Janeiro: Hispano-Brasilena, 1935.

Erkkila, Betsy. Walt Whitman among the French. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Guido, Angelo. "Futurism." Revista do Brasil (São Paulo) 88 (April 1923): 376–379.

Leminski, Paulo. Preface to Folhas das Folhas de Relva, trans. Geir Campos. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1990.

Lima, Alceu Amoroso. "A literatura em 1920." Revista do Brasil (São Paulo) 64 (April 1921): 3–15.

Milliet, Sergio. "O meu depoimento." In Edgard Cavalheiro, ed., Testamento de uma geração: 26 figuras da intelectualidade brasileira prestam o seu depoimento. Porto Alegre: Globe, 1944.

Murici, Andrade. Panorama do Movimento Simbolista Brasileiro. Vol. 1. Rio de Janeiro: Departamento de Imprensa Nacional, 1952.

Sampaio, Sebastião. "Brasil-Estados Unidos: duas nações irmãs." Revista da Academia Brasileira de Letras 149 (May 1934): 5–29.

Silveira, Tasso da. "O poeta da profunda tristeza." O Mundo Literário (Rio de Janeiro) 20 (December 1923): 131–152.

——. "Poetas que virão." Terro do Sol (Rio de Janeiro) 4 (April 1924): 35.

——. "Saudação ao Mundo." Festa (Rio de Janeiro) 1 (October 1927): 12.

——. "Traduçoes Anônimas." Festa (Rio de Janeiro) 5 (February 1928).

——. "Palavras a Whitman." In Puro Canto-Poemas Completos. Rio de Janeiro: GRD, 1962, 204–206.


1. GILBERTO FREIRE
"Camerado Whitman"

The man in whom contemporary America [i.e., North and South America] most nearly recognizes its image is good gray Whitman in his open-collared shirt, in his white nurse's smock, in his typesetter's work clothes. Whitman, one of the greatest one-man orchestras of all time, a polyphony, not just one voice. Whitman, full of antagonisms and contradictions, far from coherent, anything but logical; still an adolescent in his adult years, but, at thirty, wearing the hair and beard of any old man; an imperfect, rude, unfinished, and at the same time classic, being; a friend of Emerson and an admirer of Lincoln, and at the same time a man so understandingly human that he never was ashamed to live among the "roughs"; the Anglo-American who first celebrated a Negro woman in a poem; an American from the middle class who neither revolted against the middle class nor limited himself, as poet, to a single class, a single race, a single religious creed, a single sex, a single movement, or a single country, but chose to be the comrade of all Americans, of all human beings in search of better, or at least more fraternal, times for America and for humanity.

The one who in this way understood his position as man and as poet, as American and as citizen, and ran the risk of being misunderstood by the sectarians of all sects, by purists of all purisms, by the orthodox of all orthodoxies, anticipated the Americanism which other progressive Americans are only today beginning to attain: integral, pan-human, pan-democratic Americanism. For the men of America, of the West, and perhaps of the whole world, Whitman renewed the sentiment, the conception, the ideal of brotherhood—brotherhood as opposed to any kind of despotic paternalism—with a revolutionary and poetic power such as had not existed among men since that other great poet and revolutionary who was likewise above the paternalistic ideals of his time in questions of class and sect, race and sex: Saint Francis of Assisi.

Whitman lived in times particularly inauspicious for democracy in his country. In his eyes the two presidential candidates in the 1856 elections were, in comparison with Emerson, mere dwarfs; perhaps he would have liked to see as president not a common man, but some extraordinary Emerson. He was therefore disgusted by that exhibition of Lilliputians in the electoral battle for the presidency. For it should be noted that, in spite of all his faith in the common man, Whitman always recognized the need, in posts of authority, for the uncommon man. Uncommon not for academic knowledge or the exquisitely literary or aesthetic temerament of a sage or artist divorced from daily life, but for superior capacity for leadership, and at the same time for ability to identify himself with the needs and aspirations of the community. Two of his poems are dedicated to one of those uncommon men who had come from the midst of common men, the son of a woodcutter, in fact—Lincoln. In Lincoln Whitman incarnated his concept of the "redeemer" of the Americans, of the "captain," of the "first-class leader."

His faith in democracy was that of one who saw with a clear eye the whole tremendous storn that democratic institutions were passing through in his country and in his time. But even though the anti-democratic winds blew ever stronger; even though the black clouds rose ever blacker against the concept of democratic life held by Jefferson and other prophets of the first days of the Republic—it did not matter. The ship of democracy had not, indeed, been made only for favorable winds, gentle waves, rose-colored clouds:



Ship of the hope of the world—Ship of Promise,
Welcome the storm—welcome the trial,
Why now I shall see what the old ship is made of,
Anybody can sail with a fair wind, or a smooth sea.


Whitman was inspired by a concept of democracy very much in accord with his somewhat Darwinian sense of reality, of life, and of the contradictions of man: a democracy capable of resisting anti-democracy by its own efforts. If it lacked the virility or the capacity to resist the fury of its enemies, the democracy did not deserve to survive.

In his eyes, anti-democracy was embodied not only in absolute monarchy but also in a powerful plutocracy. Not only in the feudal slaveholding system of the South but also in the industrial capitalism of the North with its new kings and barons at the head of banks and privileged business enterprises. That is why Whitman always censored the abolitionists for narrowness of vision: they saw a single social problem, that of the liberation of a race exploited and dominated by agrarian feudalism. No single race or class or religion ever seemed to Whitman such a cause as a democrat should fight for. "America" itself seems to have been for him less a physical than a social expanse: the symbol of humanity or of the world of the future which, by "manifest destiny," would have its center in the American continent. In his opinion—that is what his Americanism seems to indicate, an Americanism to which we can perhaps compare the Slavism of modern Russian Stalinists—the American continent was the one most fit to take the lead in the realization of a democracy as nearly complete as possible: social, not merely political; ethnic though he did not emphasize as much as José Bonifácio this aspect of human intercourse, whose democratization seems a characteristically Brazilian contribution to the democratic complex—not merely economic. For Whitman's concept of democracy was a total one, not merely a narrowly political one, much less a mechanically electoral one.

So that, on the approach of the War of Secession, a conflict rather between two antagonistic economic systems than between two regions, Whitman did not let himself be dominated completely by either of the partisan creeds: neither by that of Yankee unionism nor by that of state autonomy defended by the Southern slaveholders. His vision of America—at least of English America—in 1860 was already that of the "indissoluble continent" which today inspires many of us:



With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.


One of the most lucid interpreters of Whitman—I refer to Professor Ralph Henry Gabriel—emphasizes what the Civil War meant for the Poet, ever confident in democracy's power of resistance to anti-democratic forces: in 1872 Whitman recalled that those terrible days of conflict showed that "popular democracy, whatever its faults and dangers, practically justifies itself beyond the proudest claims and the wildest dreams of its enthusiasts." Not that, in Whitman's opinion, the Civil War had resulted in the rose-colored triumph of democracy over plutocracy. Agrarian slavocracy had been ruined, and abolition had won its small battle for the emancipation of blacks from agrarian and feudal slavery—that was all. But the war had been democratic because it had brought common men from the two regions into the bitter struggle, over a question of duty democratically conceived. And those men had borne themselves valiantly in combat. After the victory of the North over the South, at a time when—as in the sad case of General Grant himself—some of the highest offices of the Republic were held by persons who did not always honor them, those men continued to be the reserve of vitality and of manliness, of honesty and of sense of responsibility, of which the war had revealed its existence among the common people of both North and South. And Whitman's faith in democracy as a process or method of human intercourse rested on his faith in those men.

When he addressed as "comrades" all human beings—not only those of his own economic class or of his own intellectual caste, of his own region or territorial area, or of his own race of white-skinned, blond-haired men—there was not in that fraternization of Whitman's with all Americans—or with all human beings of his day capable of the same fraternalism—the affected or conventional attitude of the sectarian of an ideology that, though international, was nevertheless exclusive as to the class, the race, the activity, or the sex of individuals. "Comrade" was his natural way of speaking, in a manner at once Franciscan and Hellenic, to other men free from artificial and preconceived ideas. There was in his attitude almost no Hebraism, the exclusive, ethnocentric Hebraism that spread from the Hebrews to the Anglo-Saxon Protestants known as Puritans, in whose spirit on occasion was jeopardized the democratic, and at the same time Christian, conception of life and of human relations. "Comrade" was his way of addressing other men who were simply men. Simply men and women. Commen men, not supermen in the Nietzschean sense. For it was common men—I repeat—who made possible Whitman's democratic faith. He believed in the future of democracy in an epoch as troubled for American democracy as that in which he lived because he came to know the common man, the average man—it should be noted, not merely the middle-class man—the simple man of his country; because he saw him at close range with all his defects and all his good qualities; because he became conscious of his basic virtues not only through the eyes of a poet but also through the clinical eyes of a nurse, not to say a doctor. It was through those eyes that he saw, on the naked bodies of the men whom he treated, wounds caused not only by war but also by social malformations of peace time; it was through those eyes that he saw not only the naked bodies of hundreds of common men but also the naked souls or personalites of men near death. Many were the common men—soldiers of the abolitionist North and the slaveholding South—who died in his fraternal arms as in those of an older brother. Many were the common men who confessed in Whitman's ears their last worldly thoughts.

Perhaps his long white hair made him seem paternal or maternal in the eyes of fatally wounded young men. But he was above all an older brother to the soldiers of both North and South. Perhaps also a sister in a sense parallel to that in which our illustrious Miguel Couto desired to be for his widowed mother rather a daughter than a son.

Whitman was a rough-hewn giant, but it seems that as a nurse to the sick who were closest to death, he could be as gentle as a woman. So fraternal was he in his sense of life and of human relations and so capable of tenderness in those relations—a tenderness which, generally speaking, in the civilizations where the sexes are most intensely differentiated, is accepted only in women—that some of his attitudes and some of his poems have been interpreted as affirmations or sublimations of narcissism and even of homosexuality, which has been confused with bisexualism. It is bisexualism of attitude, not of action, born of empathy, not of vice, that is found in Whitman. For he seems not to have indulged in homosexual practices either in the debauched manner of a Verlaine and an Oscar Wilde, or even in an attempt, difficult but ethically oriented, to tendencies less common than the dominant ones: the tremendous effort, in our day, of an André Gide. He seems principally to have had the courage of great friendships with other men (sometimes, perhaps, with a remote homosexual basis) alongside enthusiasms for "perfect women"—a fact which emphasizes the bisexualism of his attitude; and the "narcissism" of celebrating the beauty of the human body—that of man as well as that of woman—not merely the grace and charm of a woman's body seen through the eyes of a man.

Dugas, in his study on friendship, points out that were friendship was a cult, as in the classical civilizations, relations among friends did not imply the absence or the sacrifice of relations of any of them with the public in general. Walt Whitman, reacting against agrarian feudalism and feudal industrialism, both of them responsible for rigid hierarchies between the sexes and among men—hierarchies hostile to great friendships, which are mostly fraternal ones—restored the cult of friendship without sacrificing to that cult his public spirit: he was a friend to some and a comrade to many. He would have liked to be a comrade to all or nearly all. Hence his democratic solution of the problem: his fraternalism expressed in the feeling of a comrade, an extension of the feeling of a friend. All of these sentiments were aspects of the same democratic spirit: that of fraternity.

Saint Francis of Assisi, in his poetic rebellion against the Hebraically or feudally paternalistic successes within the Church, had extended that democratic fraternalism beyond men, applying it to water, to fire, to animals, to trees. All things were his brothers. Whitman, naturalistic, yes, but above all personalistic in the best sense, did not go so far. Nor did he go to the extreme of another type of rude naturalism: that of Thoreau, who seems to have preferred leaning on the branches of New England trees to trusting in the support of human arms, even friendly ones. For Whitman, the term "comrade" included all men able to understand, love, and complete one another through human symbols and human means of integration. Integration of individuals into one another, according to special affinities; and of all persons, fraternally, into the community.

At the same time his conception of friendship was akin to Saint Augustine's as it is revealed in the Confessions. There Augustine says that he does not know how he can go on living after losing the friend who in life complemented him to such a degree that the two formed "only one soul." Such is, or seems to be, the meaning of Whitman's famous "Calamus" poems, which belong in the same category as the great Church Father's famous pages, Shakespeare's Sonnets, and Tennyson's In Memoriam.

That was what overflowed most abundantly from Whitman into his books: a personalistic and fraternalistic sense of life and of the community, a sense so vibrant as to seem at times homosexualism gone mad whereas it was probably only bisexualism sublimated into fraternalism. Whitman was not, as a poet, much less as a writer, impersonal, inhuman, esoteric, cut off from his condition as a man, a person, a citizen. Poet, citizen, and man formed in him a complex of inseparable activities and conditions. In this he was like an Iberian. The Iberians are most likely to be made that way: integral personalities in whom the intellectual, the artist, or the public figure on the one hand and the private citizen on the other are identified to such a degree that it is impossible to distinguish the private individual in them from the writer or the artist, the political figure or the mystic. When Whitman exclaimed very Whitmanesquely one day, characterizing one of his books, "Camerado, this is no book,/ Who touches this touches a man," he spoke in an English that seems translated from Spanish or Portuguese. Thus would have spoken Angel Ganivet or Anthero de Quental; Saint Juan de la Cruz or the author of Don Quixote; and especially Ramon Llull.

In Whitman the idea of emotional interpenetration of the individual and the masses, of the poet and the community, was a constant. There was no suggestion of what we should today call racism in that interpenetration. His sense of community was, or is, sociological, not biologically ethnic, just as his sense of life and nature was, or is, rather Hellenic than Hebraic although in his mode of expression, in his rhythm, in his poetic breathing there are not lacking clearly biblical, and therefore chiefly Hebraic, echoes. But let us not forget that the Bible that had the greatest influence on Whitman, as a boy and the son of a carpenter, was the Bible interpreted by Quakers; and let us recall that the Quakers are a kind of Franciscans of Protestantism.

Whitman would be amazed at being compared to the Franciscans. There are those who practice Christianity or Franciscanism without realizing that they are Christians or Franciscans—they are sociologically Franciscans, shall we say, in order to accentuate the independence of the theological from the form, which is the sociological aspect of Franciscanism or of Christianity. Whitman was, to a degree, that type of Franciscan. He was Franciscan in his cult of a simplicity at times dangerously close to simple-mindedness. Franciscan in his pleasure in associating with the uneducated, in delighting in the knowledge of intuitive people, in the spontaneity and the freshness of intelligence even of illiterates, so different from academic and doctoral intelligence, so impregnated with the joy of approaching problems as if man were always an apprentice, never a master; as if he were always, at every moment, beginning to learn, "walking along with life"—as a Minorite has said in defense of his brothers in religion—"in order not to be left behind."

Whitman was a Franciscan also in his taste for always going about dressed in work clothes or wearing an open-collared shirt, just as the other Franciscans, the religious disciples of the Saint, went about in a plain gray habit of coarse and rough cloth. He acted on the theory that clothing makes the man (and to a certain degree it does); that constant wearing of work clothes and systematic repudiation of the bourgeois frock coat, of the conventional businessman's sack coat, of the academic or bureaucratic black swallow-tailed coat, of the bachelor's or doctor's gown, eventually turns the intellectual into the man of the people or brother of the man of the people he would like to be; that work clothes, worn all the time and not only for a bourgeois stint at painting a wall or repairing a bathroom faucet, eventually become a second skin for the intellectual, a layer or a coat of social flesh over his individual's flesh—and are not the costume of one who might make of his populism or of his proletarianism a kind of masquerade or literary or political carnival.

"I see clearly," wrote Whitman in 1871—"that the combined foreign world could not beat [America] down." So that if America failed, she would be defeated or prevented from fulfilling her mission, from realizing the American spirit, from spreading what was universal in the American spirit, by enemies within, not without. The "American programme," as he called it, was not addressed, in his opinion, to social classes—neither to the bourgeoisie nor to the proletariat—but to "universal man." Hence the expansionist or universalist character of that program.

When an Argentine statesman proposed, instead of the Monroe doctrine of "America for the Americans," the famous concept of "America for humanity," he was in a sense repeating Whitman. For Whitman's Americanism always aimed at "universal man." Everything in his writings indicates that he always considered the American Revolution more universal than the French Revolution: it was a revolution in favor of man, not only one group or class of men. As Whitman respected human personality, he obviously could not conceive of "universal man" reduced to a caricature of American man. He seems to have conceived only that the circumstances of their history had given Americans magnificently ample opportunities to develop democratic forms of human intercourse which, as general forms, though with different ideological content and many peculiarities of national or regional stylization, could and should be extended to the whole world in the interest of so-called "universal man." At least that is how I interpret what can be called the American expansionism or the democratic imperialism that is found in Whitman, a mystical faith to which he gave poetic expression with Messianic vigor.

Although he considered the American democracy of his time "an almost complete failure in its social aspects, and in really grand religious, moral, literary and aesthetic results," Whitman nevertheless kept a belief, a faith, a confidence in an America Messianic in its "programme of culture" for the whole world. He explained it thus: "True, indeed, behind this fantastic farce"—the gaudy materialism of the United States—"solid things and stupendous labors are to be discover'd, existing crudely and going on in the background, to advance and tell themselves in time." It was in order that more should be done for the people, in order that those solid things might grow and those stupendous labors might increase that his prophetic voice was raised more than once in an attempt to attract the most capable and most honest Americans to political activity. America, taken as a whole, was perhaps doing very well in spite of all the depravity of businessmen and all the corruption of bureaucrats who jeopardized the democratic health of the community. It was principally "the dilettantes, and all who shirk their duty" who were not doing well. Hence Whitman's cry: "Enter . . . into politics. I advise every young man to do so." Let everyone inform himself of the facts; let everyone try to act for the best; let everyone vote. He was not enthusiastic for political parties; but he recognized the necessity of parties, of elections, of voting. He addressed himself chiefly to the independents—farmers, clerks, mechanics, laborers; let these, ever vigilant, be the decisive element in elections. It is almost with fury that he insists on condemning the attitude of the dilettantes, in whose minds political activity had become so corrupt in the United States that there was no salvation for American democracy.

Whitman was a personalist. It would not have been easy for him to accept the positivist generalization that it is always the individual who is in ferment and humanity that leads him. He lived too close to the phenomenom represented by Lincoln not to believe that there are moments in which the opposite is true: humanity—or a great part of humanity—is in ferment, and it is a great man who leads it. A man who, when he is really great, does not let himself be moved by his contemporaries' excesses or be dominated by their hatreds for class or race or sect; a man able to place eternal values before those of the moment, to uphold great sentiments over small ones: the passion for justice, for example. Lincoln. All Lincolns. They have not been numerous, those Lincolns, but they have existed. The second Roosevelt was one of them, and we are suffering for lack of him. The really great men are those who attempt or achieve the conciliation of antagonistic points of view instead of incarnating ideals or interests exclusive to one class, one race, one nation, one sect, one creed. Whitman was himself a human orchestra, in whom echoed and by whom were expressed diverse and even contradictory ideals.

That is why he is a poet even more for today than for his own time. It is the American people of today—the people of all the Americas, not only of English America—who are absorbing him today.

For our age, it would seem, is destined to synthesize or intergrate values that in the eyes of the men of the nineteenth century were irreconcilable: such diverse values as socialism and personalism, Christianity and Marxism, intellectualism and intuitivism. Whitman was one of the first to develop the concept, the notion of synthesis that is to characterize the world of tomorrow. A champion of the "divine average," he nevertheless upheld, against the democratic principle of the average, the somewhat aristocratic principle of personality—aristocratic in that it puts a special value on quality. It implies creative personality conscious of its creative power, able to synthesize, to interpret differences and antagonisms.

Perhaps it can be said that Whitman's faith in the common man came from the conviction that, if all men were given an equal opportunity for expression and creation, there would arise from among common men some intellectually and aesthetically uncommon men who would benefit from the whole community and its total culture. He was not dreaming of a leveling of all men; but of the opportunity for each one to develop to the full his own personality within a framework of equal opportunities for personal development. Once this integration of the rights of the individual with those of the community is reached, much will have been achieved in the direction of synthesis betwen the antagonisms that still oppose each other: collectivism represented today chiefly by the incomplete Soviet democracy, and individualism or, in the most advanced milieu, personalism, represented today by the likewise incomplete democracies of the West, of which Whitman's America has become the greatest: the center of a real social and cultural system that can be defined as Euramerican, whereas the collectivist system is, in a way, Eurasian. The "East" and the "West" from which Professor F. S. C. Northrop hopes for a new synthesis, greater, sociologically, than the Thomist or even the Christian synthesis. The greatest efforts of man today should be in the direction of integrating or reconciling those antagonisms. Hence the value of Walt Whitman for our time.

"Camerado" Whitman defined himself almost a hundred years ago by an Americanism that was pan-human in its perspectives, in its meaning, and in its program of cultural expansion. The Orient will, in all certainty, eventually absorb a large part of that Americanism; and at the same time that Americanism will be enriched with Oriental values within the conception outlined in a recent book by Professor Northrop. According to him, it is not economics, so highly touted today by the Anglo-Americans and by the Soviet Russians, that is the key to the humanities; it is the humanities, including the aesthetic factor, that are the key to the solutions of the problems of economics.

"Camerado" Whitman loved his neighbor fraternally without disdaining himself: rather he sang his own body—his whole body—to the point that people thought him narcissistic and even obscene. But he was neither narcissistic nor obscene, he was personalistic. An intense personalist—that is what he was. It may be repeated here that in his political ideas he was a passionate personalist, in contrast to those who boast of being superiorly impersonal and coldly dispassionate. For "Camerado" Whitman, political activity was a manner of expressing his moral passion. His passion for social justice. His passion for human solidarity. His passion for the community, embodied in his eyes chiefly by the common man.

If he definitely approached socialism at the end of his life, as one of his most authoritative biographers claims, he always inclined—I repeat—toward ethical, not mechanical or deterministic socialism. Personal, not impersonal, socialism. Pan-human socialism, not narrowly proletarian socialism, which glorifies only manual or mechanical labor and is hostile to intellectual, artistic, freely scientific, superiorly technical work; or hostile to religious activity. The socialism that is ardently interested in moral values, not the socialism that is uninterested in those values because its practioners or its apologists believe in an absolute economic determinism within any human intervention except that represented by cynically Machiavellian maneuvers destined only to accelerate the solutions.

Though Whitman believed firmly in Science with a capital S, his humanism never lost its fluidity, never hardened into political, economic, or sociological determinism. I do not know to what extent he was familiar with the sociology or the sociologies of his day. In any case it is certain that he foresaw an original sociology born of America; and everything seems to indicate that in that sociology he did not see a new expression of determinism within which there would be no room for Lincolns or Whitmans, for the great men who contain multitudes within themselves instead of being contained by them.

I believe that his faith in science would allow of the anti-scientific restrictions so well expressed in late years by another clear-sighted American—Charles A. Beard—and, more recently, by Northrop. Beard points out that if all human affairs were reduced to law or to a kind of terrestrial mechanics, man's very control over occurences and actions would become meaningless. And "the past, present, and future would be revealed as fixed and beyond the reach of human choice and will. Men and women would be chained to their destiny as the stars and tides are to their routine."

Meanwhile the sciences of man, far from authorizing us to believe in economic determinism or sociological fatalism, continue to allow plenty of room for the adventurous humanism, the experimental democracy, the life incessantly renewed in various of its aspects by man himself which is constantly found in Whitman's thought, in his democratic spirit, and in his Americanism, always tempered by the most anti-mechanistic, anti-doctrinaire, and anti-deterministic of personalisms.


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