The American vocabulary, the colloquial style, and the oratorical mode : influences on Whitman's 1855 "Song of Myself"

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Lucie G. Taylor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Robert Stephens

Abstract: In the 1855 edition of "Song of Myself" Walt Whitman achieved a distinctively American expression and created at the same time a highly individualistic poem through his combination of three elements —an American vocabulary which included slang, a colloquial style which reflected the idioms and rhythms of common speech, and the oratorical impulse prevalent in nineteenth century America. His prose statements reveal that Whitman was a leading voice in a national literary movement for an independent American literature not based upon English models. In the 1855 "Song of Myself" his vocabulary reflects the basic ways that American speech diverged from the English, in addition to reflecting his unique poetic style. The colloquial style, also linked to his desire for an independent American literature, comprises not only the colloquial word or phrase but definable stylistic features. Whitman's oratorical style was prompted by his early exposure to oratory and by his desire to speak directly to an audience. His own notes plus the oratorical features of "Song of Myself" are signs that even if he did not intend to deliver the poem he wrote much of it from an orator's stance. Whitman's American vocabulary and both the colloquial and oratorical styles are unified by a common impulse—that of speaking to Americans with an American voice.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 1975
Whitman, Walt, $d 1819-1892 $x Criticism and interpretation
Whitman, Walt, $d 1819-1892. $t Song of myself
American poetry $y 19th century

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