notes on the Whitmanian "line"

	Sat, 25 Sep 1999 09:18:32 -0400 (EDT)

		read carefully!!!!!

		below is a message responding to the great "Smell!"
		debate--but which comments on

			the poetic line

		and takes us to Ginsberg as well as Whitman

first here's Dan's message from last night:

| Looks like I'm on the positive side of the argument for this one.  It seems 
| to me that WCW is talking about his nose in a sort  celebratory manner.  Even 
| the slightly mocking remarks he makes such as " What will you not be 
| smelling! We are tactless asses, you and I, bony nose, always indisciminate, 
| always unashamed..."
| Even that seems like friendly chiding, even acceptance! Much like Whitman. 
| Also like Whitman, WCW rarely uses rhymes in his poems. They seem to flow 
| much like Whitman's, too in the sense that every verse seems to have the same 
| importance, the same ' in your face ' kind of thing. Anyway, that's just my 
| opinion!
|          Dan


Dan and all:

Williams's poems tend to be short-lined (constructed of short lines) and
yet still "flow," as Dan puts it, because they are not end-stopped.
Insofar as they "flow," Dan's right to suggest that they are Whitmanian.

In "Smell!" we have, for instance:

     With what deep thirst
     we quicken our desires
     to that rank odor of a passing springtime!

"thirst" leads directly to "we" in the next line. "desires" leads
drectly to "to that rank" in the next line. So the poem reads a little
like a Whitman line even though its LOOK on the page is more modern.

If we stretched out the line so that each line contains a thought (as with
Whitman), we might get:

   With what deep thirst we quicken our desires to that rank odor of a 
	passing springtime!

Now *that's* Whitmanian! (Also, on the question of whether Williams is
here being celebratory of earthy senses and rudeness/roughness/readiness
["easy," "near"] I'd like to note that when the line gets stretched out
like that it's simpler to see [in my view!] what a celebration of the
senses "Smell!" is. He loves the rank odors! He loves pulpy spring! He's
saying, "Lead on, rude nose of mine! Go! It's okay that we will be deemed
rude. I can't help it; you do what you do. I lead with my nose! My nose
leads me! I can't help myself! I'm rude! I sing myself through my

I do think it's hard sometimes to see the Whitmanian element in Williams's
poetry when he's being modernist in his form (broken phrases, short
lines). Let me observe again that in Whitman 

	the lines are units of thought

whereas in William Carlos Williams, 

	the lines are fragments of ideas-rendered-in-phrases

whereas in pre-modern poetry (e.g. our friends William Vaughn Moody and
Allen Ginsberg's father)

	the lines are strictly units of meter (lines end when the
		meter runs out)

This is a major change in the idea of the poetic line! Please think about
it as we move toward modernism in our course.

So if it's hard, because of the more modern conception of the line, to see
the Whitmanian in Williams, it's not so hard (in this respect) to see the
Whitmanian in Ginsberg. Mostly because (you guessed it!) Ginsberg's lines
are Whitmanian!

So now let's include Ginsberg in our discussion of the Whitmanian "line"
of "lineage" or tradition. WE now have


Let's talk about all three. I'd like not to forget Williams's "Danse
Russe" and "Catholic Bells" in this discussion, if possible.

Go for it!


P.S. More on the poetic line. In my triplet definition above --

  pre-modern:	 		poetic line defined by meter
  Whitmanian/proto-modern:	poetic line made of thoughts (or
  Williams/modern:		poetic line made of fragments of
					thought rendered in phrases

-- I neglected to throw a wrench into the Dickinson discussion. I can do
that now. If you talk about the poetic line (the line as opposed to other
poetic elements, like language itself, like the choice of words, like the
grammar and syntax) you unfortunately have to put Dickinson in the

camp! Wow! That's an odd but very instructive take on Dickinson. Her lines
are often precisely--sometimes roughly but mostly--defined by meter. She
uses the ballad stanza! Often they are perfectly or nearly perfectly
metrical. She does NOT see the line as defined by thoughts. If she makes
the move toward the modern line, it's because she skipped the

	Whitmanian/proto-modern line-as-though

stage and goes directly to fragment-phrases. But that she doesn't do
often. Does this make sense to everyone?

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