6 September 2016
“Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose” (Crossing Brooklyn Ferry).
Whitman presents a cataclysmic reaction for 19th century American poetry, paving the way for new forms of cotemporary style while still allowing canonical ideas to be drawn from his works. In this above line of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, he is returning home on Brooklyn Ferry on the Manhattan River, and after a considerable amount of time following the same routine begins to analyze his traveling, noting how the days and people are different but the roles that pan out are the same. It is the same waves, the same flags, the same kinds of people. There is monotony in the days, raising questions in Whitman’s mind. Where are they going? What are they thinking about? What is it about the ride that draws their attention? He begins to imagine hypothetical stories for those whom he sees on the ferry, giving life to the otherwise dull ride he takes daily. He is observing, not just the scene around him but more than that, like a sixth sense, the people around him, attempting to step into their minds and lives, creating an imaginary persona for them within his writing.
This form of observation brings much importance to the discovery of new methods of poetry. Before, I feel it was a containment of the five senses holding writers back, only seeing the world for surface level, and even though it achieved levels of beauty it never allowed for much catharsis. We can visualize a sunset, but we cannot know how someone feels about a sunset. The typical opinion would be one of beauty, but to some a sunset brings harsh memories of something intentionally forgotten. This allows us to fill in the blanks of these questions raised, and gives writers wiggle room to allow readers to interpret their work for what it is worth to them. This breaks from the canon, allowing for new forms of literary theory to begin evolving, and aiding along the rise of Individualism to soon be followed in the next century.
Whitman was an inspiration for many writers to break from tradition and typical poetry that only drew on what could be observed. For instance, in Ezra Pound’s In A Station of the Metro, we do not have much to work with:
“The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.”
There are only 13 words, 2 lines, and 3 forms of punctuation. By traditional standards at this point, this was no poem, no less a story. But through modern observations it allows the reader to expand upon what the writer intends to accomplish, and it is not the writer who receives satisfaction but rather the reader. I am my own encyclopedia, defining things how I see fit, and what these things mean to me. I am able to visualize the faces like petals of a branch in the metro but more so I am able to feel alive in the metro- able to write stories for these travelers. A businessman. A homeless person. A widow. A group of teenagers. These are no longer journalistic stories reporting what happened through the use of prose and figurative language but instead a chance for me to pen my own world where the characters are my own, and I write their stories.