Selected Criticism

Ladd, Andrew
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

According to Whitman, his first encounter with Homer came when, as a teenager, he read Buckley's prose translation on a Long Island beach (Prose Works 2:723; Stovall fixes this date later, at or around 1857). Although he knew Homer only in translation, Whitman reputedly liked to read the bard aloud either at the beach or in the city. Thoreau recounts that Whitman would "ride up and down Broadway all day on an omnibus, sitting beside the driver . . . and declaiming Homer at the top of his voice" (340). In his prose writings and notebooks, Whitman frequently places Homer alongside Shakespeare and the Bible as the highest examples of poetic vision. Typically, Whitman cites Homer as the ideal to which all modern poets should aspire and even exceed: "I have eulogized Homer, the sacred bards of Jewry, Eschylus, Juvenal, Shakspere . . . [but] I say there must, for future and democratic purposes, appear poets, (dare I to say so?) of higher class even than any of those" (Prose Works 2:420–421). That is, modern poets should not only achieve the same visionary power that Homer and the other sacred bards did, but they also must surpass the ancient bards just as American democracy surpasses older European civilizations.


Thoreau, Henry David. "The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau." Whitman in His Own Time. Ed. Joel Myerson. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1991. 340–342.

Whitman, Walt. Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts. Ed. Edward F. Grier. 6 vols. New York: New York UP, 1984.

____. Prose Works, 1892. 2 vols. Ed. Floyd Stovall. New York: New York UP, 1963–1964.


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