The Poetry of Walt Whitman

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1 The Poetry of Walt Whitman The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem. --Walt Whitman, From Preface to the 1855 Edition of Leaves of Grass In the space below, explain how the United States is like a work of poetry. You may choose to include examples from history, geography, and/or your personal experiences. Your paragraph should be at least 50 words long. Grade 11, Unit 2 1

2 Name Date Walt Whitman's Poetry Literary Analysis: American Epic Poetry Walt Whitman was the inventor of a new kind of verse: American epic poetry. Unlike traditional epic poetry, which features an ambitious and untouchable hero, Whitman s brand celebrates the common person and acknowledges that all human beings have a spiritual kinship with one another. Rather than focusing on the story of a single hero s quest, Whitman focuses on the interconnectedness of all humanity. DIRECTIONS: For each of the following passages from Whitman s poetry, explain how it exemplifies American epic poetry. 1. And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. 2. My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this soil, this air, / Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same. 3. I am enamor d of... the builders and steerers of ships and the wielders of axes and mauls, and the drivers of horses, / I can eat and sleep with them week in and week out. 4. By the bivouac s fitful flame, / A procession winding around me, solemn and sweet and slow but first I note, / The tents of the sleeping army 5. I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear. / Those of mechanics... / The carpenter... / The mason... / The boatman... / The shoemaker... / The wood-cutter s song... Grade 11, Unit 2 2

3 Name Date Unit 2 Resources: A Growing Nation Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved. 175 Walt Whitman s Poetry Reading Warm-up A Read the following passage. Pay special attention to the underlined words. Then, read it again, and complete the activities. Use a separate sheet of paper for your written answers. Sam stayed in his bedroom all afternoon, practicing for a poetry recitation at school. His teacher had assigned him Whitman s poem When I Heard the Learn d Astronomer. The more Sam recited the poem, the more he liked it. Still, he knew that poetry recitals were often boring, and he felt he would be nervous, venturing onto a stage with just a poem to keep everyone s attention. To make matters worse, he kept imagining the situation described in the poem itself. He was the somber astronomer explaining the movements of the planets and stars with a series of charts. Instead of a wonder or mystery, the night sky became like the inside of a car engine, a bunch of objects to be tinkered with by mechanics. As he recited the poem, Sam could feel the atmosphere in the auditorium: the dim light, the air made moist by the breath of a few hundred people. He imagined just sitting there, unable to voice an opinion, as the astronomer lectured the crowd. Wouldn t everyone feel just as bored tomorrow when Sam gave his reading? He imagined himself onstage, yelling out the words, while his fellow students yawned and waited for intermission, when they could leave the auditorium for a few minutes of fresh air. When he came to the end, they might clap a little, but the applause would be insincere. How could he get across the real point of the poem, which was that the world and everything in it was fascinating? Inside a school auditorium, would anyone really be able to picture the night sky that the poem described, its mystery and its measureless size? Probably not, Sam guessed, but when he looked at the poem again, he still liked it. All he could do was let it speak for itself. Grade 11, Unit 2 3

4 Questions for Passage: 1. Underline the words in this sentence that give a clue to the meaning of venturing. Use the word venturing in a sentence of your own. 2. Circle the words in this sentence that give a clue to the meaning of astronomer. What is an adjective related to this word? 3. Underline the words that give a clue to the meaning of mechanics. Use this word in an original sentence. 4. Circle the words that offer a clue to the meaning of moist here. Use a word meaning the opposite of moist in a sentence of your own. 5. Circle the words in this sentence that offer clues to the meaning of lectured. What is a synonym of lectured? 6. Underline the words in this sentence that give a clue to the meaning of intermission. What are two synonyms for intermission? 7. Circle the words in this sentence that give a clue to the meaning of applause. Use the word applause in an original sentence. 8. Underline the words in this sentence hinting at the meaning of measureless. What are two synonyms for measureless? Grade 11, Unit 2 4

5 Name Date Unit 2 Resources: A Growing Nation Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved. 182 The Poetry of Walt Whitman Open-Book Test Short Answer Write your responses to the questions in this section on the lines provided. 1. How do the ideas expressed in the first paragraph of the preface to Leaves of Grass act as a helpful support for Whitman s use of free verse in his poetry? Use a detail from the paragraph to support your answer. 2. The first paragraph of the preface to Leaves of Grass is all one sentence. Which reading rate would you use to gain the fullest understanding of this passage, and why? 3. In the second paragraph of the preface to Leaves of Grass, which adjective or adjectives used in the preface could you use to characterize the America which Whitman describes? Give two examples of words from the preface to support your word choices. 4. In line 10 of Song of Myself, find the word abeyance. Which lines in this section give you clues to the meaning of the word abeyance? Explain your answer. 5. In Section 6 of Song of Myself, how does Whitman s free verse reflect the way people talk naturally in conversation? Grade 11, Unit 2 5

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