Whitman and words

November 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

In “A Backward Glance” Whitman discusses what he calls the “impetus-words” of Leaves of Grass. One of the words he gives is “suggestiveness,” a word that suggests the very importance (and impetus) of words in Whitman’s poetics, his “theory experimental”:  language that connects and communicates to a reader environmentally (the atmosphere of the theme or thought), but also, or therefore, language that leaves things unfinished. “The reader will always have his or her part to do, just as much as I have had mine” (480). So, words for this writer are theories, experiments in thinking and doing, and theories take action in words.

So, as you work on Whitman for the writing project, consider his words and their suggestiveness.

For more on Whitman’s interest in language, Ed Folsom has an entire chapter on “Whitman and Dictionaries” in Walt Whitman’s Native Representations. Whitman writes about his own interests in words and language in something of his own dictionary, An American Primer.

As far as critical resources to use for your project, for further investigation into Whitman’s words.

The OED, of course. And for a dictionary closer to Whitman’s time and writing, you can explore the 1828 edition of Webster’s. There is also an interesting web dictionary you might consider, Wordnik.

And finally, to track Whitman’s words within his work, explore TokenX at the Whitman Archive.


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