These give some idea of the Russian's understanding of Whitman— not always accurate. Roger Asselineau, translator of the Larbaud, Catel, Pavese, and Papini selections, as well as the extract from his own book, is Professor of American and English literature in the Universite de Lyon, France. He taught for two years at Harvard. Sholom K. She wrote her Ph. Samuel Putnam, translator of the Mirsky essay, is the late distin- guished translator of Don Quixote and author of a history of Brazilian literature.
He translated from many languages. He is known as a poet and critic. Benjamin M. Woodbridge, Jr. Contents Preface vii Notes on Translators and Contributors. Ferdinand Freiligrath was a political exile in England when Wil- liam Rossetti's edition of Whitman's poems appeared in He wrote an enthusiastic account of the American poet and translated several extracts from the poems for a German newspaper, but two decades passed before the German literary world began to take no- tice of Leaves of Grass and its author.
Knortz also collaborated with T. Rolleston on the translation of a selected volume of Whitman's poems, which was finally published in Switzerland in after the German police had forbidden its publication in Germany. During the next two decades a Whitman cult grew up in Ger- many. The most ardent of his worshippers was Johannes Schlaf, a young poet, who made the promotion of Whitman his life-work, translating him, imitating him, and eulogizing his life. The same year Wilhelm Scholermann at- tempted to translate Whitman into rhyme, and to compare him, not unfavorably, to the Ganzmenschen man of men , Jesus of Nazareth.
Meanwhile, the Social-Democrats had dis- covered him, and he became an oracle for this political party. At the end of the First World War a second Whitman cult arose. Hans Reisiger, the most gifted translator that had yet ap- peared, published a selection of the poems in and three years later a two volume edition containing Leaves of Grass and the major prose works. This translation was quickly accepted as a classic and Hermann Stehr declared, "It is as if the great American had written not in English, but in German.
Some of the Nazi poets are said to have found something in Whit- man to admire, but the record of his influence during this tragic period is confused. No strong Whitman movement sprang up in Germany after World War II, but the "poet of democracy" was again read and dis- cussed. Hans Reisiger had survived, and in he reissued his translation in four small volumes.
The following year the Univer- sity of Munich conferred an honorary doctor's degree upon this dis- tinguished translator, a very unusual recognition in the academic world of Germany. Two years later Henry Seidel Canby's excellent biography of Whitman was translated into German and attracted considerable attention. In also Georg Goyert, the famous trans- lator of James Joyce into German, published a small volume of selected poems that the critics praised with enthusiasm. Recently a German scholar, Dr. Hermann Pongs, professor emeritus of Gottingen University, published in the United States a provocative comparative study of Whitman and Stefan George, in- terpreting George as representative of decadent Europe and Whit- man as spokesman of young, optimistic, and virile America.
Whit- man has always appealed to Germans more as a symbol than as the complex literary personality he was in reality, but Professor Pongs has demonstrated that this symbolic power has new subtleties and continued vitality. Who is Walt Whitman? The answer is: a poet. A new American poet.
His admirers claim him as the first poet, the only poet America has hitherto produced. The only genuinely American poet, one who does not follow in the worn footsteps of the European Muse. On the contrary— a poet coming fresh from the prairies and the settlements, from the coast and the huge rivers, from among the thronging crowds of port and city, from the South- ern battlefields; with the fragrance of his native soil in his beard, his hair and his dress; a unique personality with his feet firmly and consciously on American ground; a herald announcing great events magnificently, though often in a strange way.
His admirers go even further: for them, Walt Whitman is the only poet representative of the laboring, striving, searching time; the poet par excellence— the poet. Such is the tenor of his admirers, among them even an Emer- son. On the other hand, we find the fault-finders, those deprecating the poet. Side by side with unbounded encomium and enthusiastic appraisal we find bitter biting sarcasm and invidious slander.
The poet, of course, is not concerned with those voices. Praise he accepts as being his due, scorn he meets with his scorn. He be- lieves in himself; there is no limit to his self-assurance. An English editor of his works, W. Rossetti, says, "He is the one man who entertains and professes respecting himself the grave conviction that he is the actual and prospective founder of a new poetic literature, and a great one— a literature proportional to the material vastness and unmeasured destinies of America: he believes that the Colum- bus of the continent or the Washington of the States was not more truly than himself in the future a founder and upbuilder of this America.
Surely a sublime conviction, and expressed more than once in magnificent words— none more so than the lines beginning, 'Come, I will make this continent indissoluble. Has the man a right to talk as he talks? Let us consider him more closely. Let us discuss his life and his poetry. Let us, to begin with, open his book. The lines are broken like verse, but are not really verse. No metre, no rhyme, no stanzas. Nothing but rhythmic prose, long rhythmic lines. At first glance rough, clumsy, without form; but still, for the sensitive ear, they do not lack sonority.
His language simple, crude and plain, straightforward, unafraid and, at times, obscure, but always the right word for everything. The mood sybilline, rhapsodic, mixing the sublime and the trite, violating rules of taste. Certain passages of his— notwithstanding their basic dissimilarity— remind one of our Hamann or of Carlyle's oracular wisdom or of "Les Paroles d'un Croyant.
What is it the poet conveys through this form? First of all, him- self, his ego, Walt Whitman. This ego, however, is part of America, part of the world, part of humanity, part of the universe. This is how he sees himself, unrolling before our eyes a magnificent pano- rama of the world, intertwining the small with the large, taking his point of departure in America the future belongs to a free country only and returning to it over and over again. A touch of the cosmic is part of Walt Whitman's individuality and his American charac- ter, as it may be found in those who, fond of meditating in the presence of infinity, have spent lonely days on the seashore, lonely nights under the starry sky of the prairie.
He is part of the universe, as the universe is part of himself. He, Walt Whitman the individual, is embodying humanity and the world. Humanity and the world, for him, are one great poem. Whatever he may see, hear, touch, with whatever he may come in contact, in all of it he sees a symbol of a higher, a spiritual realm, even in the most trivial, the most common, the most ordinary things of daily life.
Or rather, matter and spirit, reality and ideal are for him one and the same. Thus he appears to us: one who is responsible for his own making; one who strides along singing; one who, first and foremost a human being, a proud and free human being, opens up universal perspectives of social and political significance. What a marvelous personality. We admit that we are moved by it and excited, that we cannot forget it. At the same time, however, we find that our judgment of him is as yet incomplete, that we are still under the spell of our first impression.
In the meantime, per- haps as the first ones in Germany, we want to take note of the life and work of this fresh, new force. It is appropriate that our poets and thinkers examine more closely this strange new fellow-artist who threatens to upset our ars poetica, our aesthetic theories and canons.
Indeed, after having listened carefully to these profound WHITMAN IN GERMANY 5 pages and having intimately acquainted ourselves with the sonorous roaring of the paradoxically rhapsodic style overwhelming us like waves in perpetual motion, our pattern of versification, our at- tempts to squeeze a thought into conventional forms, our onomato- poetic endeavor, our counting and weighing of syllables, our sonnet- eering and our constructing of lines and stanzas— all of it seems almost childish. Have we really reached that point where life, even in poetry, imperiously calls for new modes of expression?
Does our time have so much and so many important things to say that old vessels no longer suffice to hold new contents? Are we on the verge of a "poetry of the future" similar to that "music of the future" which, for so many years now, has been promised to us? Is Walt Whitman more than Richard Wagner? Of the poet's personality and his life we learn that he is almost fifty years old.
He was born on May 31, His father, farmer, carpenter and architect successively, was a descend- ant of English colonists; his mother, Louise van Velsor, of Dutch origin. He received his primary education in a school in Brooklyn, a suburb of New York; when he was thirteen, he had to support himself, as a printer first and then later as a teacher and correspond- ent for several New York newspapers.
In , we find him in New Orleans as a newspaper editor; two years afterwards, again, as a printer in Brooklyn. Thereafter— like his father— he became, for a while, a carpenter and master builder. In , after the outbreak of the Civil War— an enthusiastic Unionist and Abolitionist, he un- swervingly took the side of the Northern States— he received, with Emerson's help, special permission from Lincoln to take care of wounded soldiers on the battlefields.
He did all this on the condi- tion—he had explicitly insisted upon it— that he would not be paid in any form for such services. Beginning in the spring of , on the battlefield and even more in the Washington hospital, nursing became his sole preoccupation by day and night.
Only one opinion prevails concerning his boundless self-sacrifice, his friendliness and kindness while carrying on the difficult work. Every wounded sol- dier, whether from the South or from the North, was given the same loving care by the poet. It has been claimed that until the end of the war, he had taken care of more than , sick or wounded. For six months, he himself was severely ill with a kind of hospital fever, his first real sickness. Its bluntness or, as Mr. Harlan viewed it, its immorality filled the Secretary's heart with abhorrence.
The poet, after a while, found another modest position in the office of the Attorney General in Washington, where he is now residing. On Sundays and occasionally during the week, he still goes out to visit the hospitals. Whitman is a simple person, a man of few needs, poor and, in his own words, without the talent for acquiring profits. His strength, he confided to his visitor, Mr. Conway— an American living in Lon- don—lies in "loafing and writing poetry.
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Conway found him on Long Island, probably before the war, lying in the grass in a degree temperature, staring into the sun. Just like Diogenes. His lodgings Conway found to be of the ut- most simplicity— a small room, sparsely furnished, with only one window facing the sandy plain of Long Island. Not a single book in the room. Yet he talked of the Bible, of Homer and Shakespeare as the favorite books in his possession. He had two very special studios, he said— the rooftop of a bus and Coney Island, a desolate sandy isle in the Atlantic Ocean, miles off the shore.
This saying reminds us of Napoleon's remark concerning Goethe: "Voila un homme. A selection from the Collected Works has recently been published in London by W. Rossetti, one of Whit- man's English admirers. The most infatuous crudities of the original have been omitted in it, the editor thereby intending to pave the way for a publication and unprejudiced reception of Whitman's complete works in England. We are indebted, for the above sketch of the poet's life, to Mr. Rossetti's "Prefatory Notice.
We definitely in- tend to resume, shortly, the discussion of this man and publish a few examples from his works in translation, although it is a risky thing to judge Whitman by samples. The "Ex Pede Herculem" is hardly applicable to him; he, if any poet, has to be known and studied in the totality of his works. In the midst of all the visions and passions of a world free and multiform, seizing his lonely breast, there remained with him, at all times, the invisible smile of a child belonging to the essence out of which it had been born.
Again and again he would have only had to recall this essence in order to re- turn to it like a little child, in spite of the wrinkles on his forehead and the grey hair and beard. The genuine ardor of his spirited prophesy as to a race beautiful, proud, "athletic" and "electric"— a race chaste, tender, compassionate and "fluctuating along with na- ture"— in itself originates in the maternal womb out of which he had been delivered into this life: "well-born and brought up by a perfect mother.
The maternal womb serves as the threshold to which innumerable germs throng for new sowings. Forever and ever, birth, following after birth and re-birth, labors to achieve new essence out of the maternal spheres. In the eyes of a mother, small things may grow important, and the large and world-wide things may become simple and as natural as a glance or a kiss.
Fischer, Printed by kind permission of the author. And his rejection of all cowardice and shame in the souls of men was determined quiescently, for throughout his life, he had never felt a need to feel remorseful, timid and pale about his own emotions, reactions which are detrimental to continued growth. For in the presence of his mother's understanding and ennobling glance, everything had al- ways been open and clearly perceptible.
Although but very few of his psalm-like stanzas are addressed to his mother personally, his entire work is permeated by the concept of pure and noble mother- hood to an extent which would justify its classification as one con- tinuous invocation to the one "that is giving birth," to the "har- monious image of the earth, to the fulfillment beyond which philosophy never reaches nor intends to reach, to the very mother of men. Never, in his soul, did those portals close which take most people by surprise when one fine morning they fall shut with the jarring sound of daily routine, locking out the domain of childhood and making prisoners of them in a disenchanted world in which things shrivel under the influence of the inexorable power of habit and in which the soul rushes or creeps, dumbfounded, from moment to moment.
In the midst of existence, which should make us tremble with genuine wonderment as the hours pass, this sacred power struggles forth from the abused souls only with difficulty. They will no longer be able to recapture that primal splendor in which, once upon a time, appeared to them flower and bird, wind and calmness, closeness and distance, the living cosmos surrounding them and their Ego.
The power of wonderment, apex of the human soul and source of all religious activity and creation, grew unimpaired and unre- strained out of the nature of Walt Whitman's childhood into the nature of his mature age: that wonderment of the heart which de- notes repose and trust in the incomprehensible as the power to which one is eternally bound. Thus, from all sides of Walt Whitman's poetry, unrefracted rays shoot forth, back to the dim beginnings of his youth— the in- explicable tears of a child, shed in experiencing the lonely impact of the night and of the dark and boundless ocean, in listening to the half-understood lamentations of the thrush singing of love and death, sparkle like dewdrops on the songs of this man.
It is idle to ask the conventional question, "If even then? If I feel able to talk eloquently about the days of my childhood, I myself have retained the child while becoming a man, one continuous, incarnate soul. Man's vision extends beyond that of childhood, comprehends the whole earth and all the spheres in which different suns and plants revolve, and embraces infinity whose secret pervades and transports the visible.
Yet the soul behind this power of vision remains un- changed, and the commonest things, the things within our closest reach, do not lose their magic but become ever more deeply im- mersed in the miracle of existence. The same mysterious breath which lingers over the brownish cloud banks in the clear blue sky enwraps the dead who appear to the poet in his reveries of pulsat- ing life. It is the same breath of God which enfolds the burning bodies of man and wife uniting in the ecstacy of procreation.
Many kindred traits began to vibrate in him [Whitman] as so many unconscious, magnetic currents, traits that in his maturity and old age manifested themselves as essentials of his own nature. Later in his life, he enjoyed emphasizing the Quaker element in himself. The "inner light," spiritual intuition, became for him the guiding star in thought and action. Self-respect, and arising from it, respect for his fellow-creatures, constituted the foundation of life, the very air which he breathed. The fact that this elevation and the visionary solitude did not lead him to isolation, but to a warm- hearted, effluent community spirit, to that comraderie glowing with spiritualized Eros and to the idea of true democracy— democracy as a free society of self-reliant and self-controlled individuals, of the "divine average" a leitmotif throughout his poetry — gives evidence of his affinity to the ancient doctrine of Quakerism, i.
His honesty and simplicity, his composure and discretion, his friendliness toward everybody, his indifference to established rules of social behavior— all those were true character- istics of Quakerism. After having poured the volcanic fire of his mature age into powerful songs, his genius became more and more dominated by a milder spirit.
It should be pointed out here that we would commit a grave error in assuming that Whitman, even during the time of his most passionate and daring productivity, was anything like a man of violence. The most profound element of his unrestraint is calmness; yet he was able to express even the most ruthless things because in his language and voice forever vibrates the timbre of mystic tenderness denoting the soul's communion with itself.
Every strong creed originates in the domain of silence and awe. Emerson's famous words which he sent to Carlyle together with a copy of the second edition of Leaves of Grass : "One book Actually, even the most sweeping lines of those songs are full of that fervor that has helped to tear them loose from the quiescence of a profound, tender, chaste and pious nature; in between them, again and again, a strange, leisurely smile breaks forth, the shadow of a gesture signifying the words: Why do we speak at all? What are words? Do we not hear the transcendent language of the Unspeak- able pervading them?
Whitman himself, at the end of his "Song of Myself," speaks of his "barbaric yawp" sounding over the roofs of the world, and uses this poetic picture as the finale of this powerful rhapsody. At the very climax of his perception of life and death, he falls short of breath; he stands, his voice faltering, at the edge of the sunset in which the physical and the spiritual, the finite and the infinite seem to dissolve in the flaky and fiery shreds of cloud. Then, in the very depth of his soul a cry rings out, lonely, sad, and yet rapturous, similar to that of the nocturnal cry of a falcon.
It reminds me of the last line of Gottfried Keller's wonderful poem: "Far off, wild and sad the falcons' voices sounded. In particular his songs devoted to the love of both sexes and the glorification of sex— so widely and so often attacked— are radiant with loneliness, calmness and purity. A fragrance is about them as fresh as that issuing forth from his mother's clothes when he touched them as a boy. All his actions were marked by a certain lassitude, the com- posure that comes to those whose best qualities mature not through activity but by absorbing tranquility.
Whatever attracted him and tempted him to linger, he enjoyed with the quiet repose of the growing vegetative life. The myriad tongues of metropolitan life murmured in his soul like the rush of reeds or the roaring of the sea of our soul, a choir perpetually one with all existence. In his "Democratic Vistas," he explicitly took a stand against the separa- tion of "nature" and "city. The pulse beat of this ruthlessly expanding twin city [New York-Brooklyn] was not in the least a slow or peaceful one.
Every- thing there seemed animated with an apprehension of the future. At that time, New York had a population of , and was grow- ing from year to year. People of different races kept moving into this most opportune of harbors, mixing with the stock of the early English immigrants. The blazing summer sun glared and the icy winter chill blew through the streets of this city full of contrasts. Broadway swarmed with thousands of vehicles, stagecoaches, buses, carriages, and horsemen, altogether more colorful and livelier than in our time. All classes of society participated in the activities that Broadway offered.
As yet, the huge grey stone buildings and giant- shaped skyscrapers were not there; instead, the brick houses— look- ing more colorful and gayer. Even catastrophes, now and then caused by the forces opposed to man's habitation, assumed the char- acter of sombre festivities. The fire alarm, with its tinkling of bells and blowing of bugles, summoned thousands of people to the burn- ing scene where firemen— clad in red and entangled with the intes- tines of fire hoses, ladders, hooks, and ropes— did their work defying death.
In December, , within three days, 13 acres of old build- ings burnt down completely. In more than one passage of Whit- man's poetry we are aware of the ringing of the fire alarm. In the evening, theatres opened up. Whitman for the first time in his life was thrilled by the impact of the artistic expression, the spoken word, the inspired gesture. In retrospect only are we able to grasp the intense emotion which was thus stirred up in the boy.
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We can imagine how he must have been impressed by the living word, he who, until late in his life, believed in his voca- tion as an orator as well as a poet, a great popular orator who with his powerful voice would lead the American people, would master them. The more there grew in Whitman the feeling of belonging to the race of his New World and the old frontier spirit, now trans- formed into the psychic-human element, the feeling to discover and conquer with this race on a giant virgin continent the new country of men; to produce, out of this rich and polymorphous clay, perfect sons and daughters of this New World— and thus of the whole earth —the more he felt tempted to acquaint himself with that part of his native America so different in many ways: the Southern States of the Union.
The more Whitman's capacity to marvel at all things trans- formed the material world around him into a symbolic world made translucent with spiritual infinity— in other words, the more pro- found his love for the world of phenomena grew because of their miraculous existence, the more essences and objects gained for him colorful, comprehensible, mobile, pathetic and joyous reality while enclosed in the eternal, univocal reality of the invisible— the more he was to be impressed with every step further into this world of phenomena, into that part of the earth revealing to him its treasure of lavish creative splendor, displaying new colors and fragrances, new harmonies, gestures and symbols, intense brightness and pro- creative power.
The southern United States presented a picture so radically different from that of the north, as countries bordering the southern Mediterranean do from the northern part of Germany, if not more so. Whitman left the still uncouth winter region to approach a most luxuriant spring.
There is no need to tell with what strange feelings a man, being used to account for geographic relations and the daily as well as annual rotation of our globe, would start out on a journey across a part of this earth he does not know. This river, which together with its tributaries sup- plies half of the arable land of the United States, he held to be the very artery of the New World around which the innermost life of a splendid future would pulsate. This great land called forth, at first mysteriously and impellingly, a similar greatness, spiritual and poetic, something completely new, immediate and challenging; something to continue, to fulfill all older cultures, or at least some- thing equally signiricant.
To say that he hated earning a living, and, in order to keep faith with poverty, stopped working as a carpenter, seems to apply- as many of his overly enthusiastic admirers do— standards of inter- pretation apt to glorify his case. It is true, however, that, as the years went by, he came to neglect this profitable craft for the sake of his higher interests; true also that he gave in, unconcerned with gain or loss, at all times to leisure and independent life, not always to the liking of his worried and somewhat embittered father.
This interest consisted in nothing less than the firm decision to give expression, poetically and spiritually, to the manifold ways and varied thoughts of the American people with which he had become intimately acquainted during his journey— an expression which would do justice to their peculiar and original strength, so as to constitute what one may call the Bible of a truly modern, demo- cratic human race. With all his might he directed his powers, dur- ing the seven years prior to the publication of the Leaves of Grass, to this goal.
Each time a wooden structure had been completed, Whitman went on a vacation which often lasted for weeks. He retired to nature to roam about the island, to take a sunbath on the beach, to swim, to read and to recite. Here, against nature's background, he first tried out his songs. In them he sought to recapture a rhythm corresponding to that of the sea.
Even when working, he carried a book, a magazine or news- paper in his pocket. Throughout his life he remained an ardent reader of newspapers. He himself has told us that when he was young he was a book fiend who devoured everything. The "Consuming Fire" of which he is possessed does not urge him to construct a philosophical system, but rather to give expres- sion to his very being with a mystic force in which reality, the living dream of being pulsates. Within him lives the miracle of identity, the miracle of the absolute, the true self in the individual self, the miracle of the finite and the infinite intertwined; it throbs with the heartbeat of each second, sees, hears, feels, smells, thinks, rejoices, suffers with him in all his senses.
The words for which he is grasp- ing are mere suggestions for the eternal, unspoken, forever true words. Each of them he tries to steep in the essence and wonder of his own existence, in order to invoke, through them and their pas- sionate thronging or through their tender, trembling loneliness in some whispered phrase, that power which alone enables us to understand what he really means: the power of a profoundly na- tural ecstasy— that ecstasy which should make every one of us hold our breath every day and every hour, whilst we perceive the fabu- lous wonder of our existence.
Thus the indifference accompanying everyday life, the unconcerned tranquility which we display in our dubious familiarity with today and tomorrow, should be looked upon as the greatest and most extraordinary phenomenon. This is the reason readers of Whitman are so frequently re- minded of the difference between what he really is and what his readers imagine him to be. Why is it that he escapes them continu- ally, with every single word, and yet waits for them, somewhere, calmly and leisurely? By "waiting for them" is meant precisely that natural and mystic awareness of the self which exists in the reader as well as in Whitman himself.
To lead his readers to that aware- ness is the real and innermost purpose of his poetry. Therefore it is so difficult to make any statements about Whitman outside of the sphere which he himself has only now created, a sphere which makes perceptible his meaning. That is why his words are so trans- parent, why they have such exceptional appeal, a singular quality. Love is but the feeling of attachment, of belonging to a living image hovering in the infinite and permeated by it, a feeling which finds its consummation in the tender intensity of comradeship.
The well-known English critic John A. Symonds once said: "Whitman, indeed, is extremely baffling to criticism. I have already said in print that 'speaking about him is like speaking about the universe. Not merely because he is large and comprehen- sive, but because he is intangible, elusive, at first sight self-con- tradictory, and in some sense formless, does Whitman resemble the universe and defy critical analysis. He would like best to have the reader, the lover, the friend carry his book with him in his coat pocket, to have it rest on his hip, very close to him; for it is not just a book: "Who touches this touches a man.
The course of centenniums and milleniums forever rolling along is nothing in the face of the eternal tides of truth. Since I have received the two volumes, I have opened them again and again, reading here and there. I have read the biograph- ical introduction from end to end and consider it a little master- piece of love. It is really a great achievement on your part that after years of devotion and enthusiasm you have brought close to us this powerful spirit, this exuberant, profound new personification of humanity. We Germans who are old and immature at one and the same time can benefit from contact with this personality, symbol of the future of humanity, if we are willing to accept him.
To me per- sonally, who has been striving for so many years, in my own labor- ious way, after the idea of humanity, convinced that no task is more urgent for Germany than to give a new meaning to this idea— which has become a mere empty shell, a mere school phrase— to me this work of yours is a real gift from God, for I see what Walt Whitman calls "Democracy" is essentially nothing else than what we, in a more old-fashioned way, call "Humanity. In short, your deed— this word is not too big nor too strong— can be of immeasurable influence.
Reprinted by permission of Dr. Flaxman If we disregard Freiligrath's samples of verse in and a lecture on Whitman in by the Irishman Rolleston, the year marks the real beginning of Whitman's influence [in Germany]. Inadequate and consisting of selections, it was, nevertheless, greeted as the "Bible of Democ- racy," and had an immediate effect on the young Naturalistic gen- eration, Johannes Schlaf and Arno Holz. The influence increased with the Reclam edition of Leaves of Grass by Johannes Schlaf in , and rose in to the great two-volume Fischer edition in Hans Reisiger's excellent translation.
The influence went beyond the early Naturalists Arno Holz as a "Whitman with style". It flooded through the lyrics of the Impressionists Paquet, the later Dehmel. It finally pene- trated the lyrics of the proletarian poets, and in Lersch's "Mensch im Eisen" Man in Iron reached a perfection that was just as barbaric as it was original and German. Translation published by permission of the editor of Comparative Literature and the author.
Frederick Coenen, editor of the series. Pongs is Professor Emeritus of Gottingen University. The death of the Blatter Journal in , the impotence of the George epigones, the trans- formation of the George influence into intellectual history, a kind of literary research into the George circle, indicated the intensifica- tion of the George cult that was counteracting the expansion of Whitman.
With that both poets now stood for opposing world forces, which joined in the fateful battle for the German soul at the same moment. It was a fateful battle. The Germany of the Age of the Founding Fathers had become the intellectual battlefield on which the great Russians, Scandinavians, Frenchmen, and Belgians met. Under the slogan of "Naturalism," form-exploding vital forces that had been released to the Age of the Masses concentrate in poetry.
The counter-slogan "Symbolism" embraces those things which in consciousness of form and culture oppose such a breakthrough; such as, "Neo-Romanticism," "Neo-Classicism," "Neo-Idealism," etc. In Whitman and George this play of forces forms the most ex- treme opposing tension by penetrating into the basic element of the lyric, into the rhythm. Whitman— this is the first naive rhythmical mastery of the technical age, in a thundering mass-rhythm that is traditionless, but that sweeps one along.
On the other hand, George represents the most extreme concentration and melting down of the European cultural heritage into the German word substance, in a sternly composed, liturgically solemn, monopodic rhythm. As a separation in which continents face each other. In Whitman— the young America, naively grown into the rise of technology, in a still unformed abun- dance, unspoiled, unemcumbered by tradition.
In George— the European cultural consciousness stamped by an ancient Greek- Roman-Christian heritage, which, since Rousseau, has been on the way to "finding lost Nature," to restoring it again and again in free- dom as an integral whole from the idea.
Acquired from the examples of Schiller's age, these continue to prove true here in the contrast of the continents. At the same time there is no mistaking the change of century that separates Goethe from Whitman, Schiller from George, Goethe's link to the object from the panegyrist of the tech- nologized Age of the Masses, who hungers for material and whose material is crude, and the freedom of Schiller's mind, his soaring ideas from the powerful magic with which George, as priest of the god of his own creation, surrounds his cultist congregation in poet- ry.
Both, however, express themselves in the symbols of poetry that also illuminate the unconscious. Nothing can be more obvious for a first point of departure than the outer contour that appears in the contrast of the titles chosen by the two poets for their books.
Whitman has only one, always the same one, from the first edition in to the tenth in , the year he died— Leaves of Grass. The contrast of two worlds is already revealed behind these hieroglyphic book titles. From the beginning Whitman conceived his poetry as truly like green grass, which, sprouting, increases ever anew and endlessly.
Nothing can more obviously give a new interpretation to Schiller's concept of the naive! The poetic Ego itself like green grass, produc- ing verses like primeval growth; growing over everything, entwined in everything. And at the same time what Schiller characterizes in the sentence "his ideas are inspirations of a god" is true of him; i. And thus the image of sprouting grass 20 WALT WHITMAN ABROAD prophetically includes sprouting life, which forces its way out of death, out of graves: It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men; It may be if I had known them I would have loved them; It may be you are from old people, and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mothers' laps; And here you are the mothers' laps.
The consciousness of the Ego, one can say, is here de- creased and reduced to a total context of existence. So completely that the leaves of grass verses sing out boundless existence, which is always the same; each verse an individual one, and yet all the same. Changing voices of all in everything. That is the broad meaning of leaves of grass. That is why Whitman can introduce his leaves of grass with the verse: One's-Self I sing— a simple, separate Person; Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-masse.
The titles of George's books are the coinages of a reflecting sense of form, which emphasizes distance and seeks out the eclectic. They are set up like tables, behind which begins a world in itself of beautiful form, an art for art's sake. It is a ro- mantic idealism which here erects its secret world of form, its world of dreams and miracles, its nobility in the blessing of the beautiful. The ideals of that current of the age, for which the name "Neo- Romanticism" arose around Just at that time, however, George's titles, without reducing the distance of the eclectic, already begin to move toward monumental simplicity: Das Jahr der Seele, Der Siebente Ring, Der Stern des Bundes.
A Neo-Idealism, based more on a sense of form and a severity of form than on an enjoyment of form and a feeling for form; expressed in the slogans of the time— "Neo-Classicism" more than "Neo-Romanticism. A formation of the world out of the idea, which retains symbolizing distance even when the reference to the poet's self is immediately obvious, as in JaJir der Seele. He who, with Schiller, recognizes the sentimental poet as the one who, at bottom, is always on the way to lost nature will not be surprised that in Stern des Bundes George's powerful self ap- proaches a stage in which, reflecting and in aphoristic severity, it seeks, like Whitman, an image of growth: I sense accord in bloom and wilting, And joy in all I live and do.
George's aphoristically severe nominal style: "Keim-Welke" Bloom- Wilting , and Whitman's indefatigably varied abundance of images around the primeval experience of the Ego, growing like grass, anonymous, transforming itself into every- thing. II Each of the two poets preserves in memory the moment at which his poetic calling bursts forth so convulsively that it is felt as an act of initiation. Whitman portrays the moment exactly in the hymn "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking. It goes back to childhood.
Frenchness Versus Frenchiness: Laforgue’s Translations and the “Wordly” Estate of Whitman
He observes in the dunes along the sea a loving little pair of mocking-birds, the female on the nest. And suddenly he must share the infinite sorrow of the forlorn male whose mate has perished. Sympathetic sorrow rends his heart. Just at that mo- ment words that give human sound and human meaning to the bird's cry of lamentation come streaming to him. Whitman feels this as the birth of his own poetic calling. The power of sympathy frees his voice for song; he feels it as the fatal juncture of his life: Demon or bird!
Never again leave me to be the peaceful child I was before what there, in the night, By the sea, under the yellow and sagging moon, The messenger there aroused— the fire, the sweet hell within, The unknown want, the destiny of me. It is the force of demonic Nature in the primitive sorrow of the creature that rends the heart of him, of the sympathizing man himself, and causes words to well up in him, words of infinite sympathy, out of a breast rent by sorrow, rent by fellow agony. Around the early George, on the other hand, there is loneliness and self-chosen distance.
He goes out alone into nature, and while he "exchanges words with ghosts" there, he experiences his poetic calling as a solemn "initiation," through the kiss of the Muse. She appears to him like an angel out of the world of art of D. Ros- setti, the "Pre-Raphaelite. A withdrawal from Nature, from the sur- rounding landscape into the inner view, until the initiation finds imaginative incarnation in the concluding verses: This is the hour!
Down the goddess gleams, Her gauzy veils the colour of the moon, Her lids are lowered with the weight of dreams, She leans to you and offers you a boon.
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Her mouth is trembling closer to your cheeks, So pure you seem to her, so ripe for bliss, That now she does not shun your hand which seeks To turn her lips to yours and to your kiss. The "initiation" has congealed into an image, and the iambic rhythm is appropriate to this. The will to beautiful form lies like paralysis over this exalted moment of initia- tion, which is a self-imposed initiation. Where is there anything here comparable to the outburst of a "demon"? Nothing can illustrate Whitman's demonic feeling for Nature more clearly, more simply, and at the same time more sublimely than that song of the mocking-bird in the same hymn, that testimony of being shocked and moved by the sorrow of a living creature.
Feeling everything, he dares to stammer human sounds in imitation of the song of sorrow: Soothe! Close on its wave soothes the wave behind, And again another behind, embracing and lapping, every one close, But my love soothes not me, not me. Low hangs the moon— it rose late; O it is lagging— O I think it is heavy with love, with love.
O madly the sea pushes, pushes upon the land, With love— with love. The Whitman mass-rhythm lyrically disciplined here, and yet soaring free. In sympathy with the sorrow of the bird, a cosmic feeling with surrounding Nature— the moon, the sea. Soaring into the soaring sorrow of the cosmos. The soaring of love, which is infinite even in sorrow.
Such cosmic open- heartedness becomes the redeeming gift of Nature to the soul con- vulsed by sorrow. Indefatigably, in ever new waves of song, the poet sings out the lament of the bird. To the poet, however, is given what can not be felt by the little sorrow of the bird, to find the secret of the cosmos itself, the all-redeeming basic word that re- sounds to him alone from the endlessness of the sea, the word "Death. The poet, sympathizing with the living creature, convulsed by the demon bird, in complete surrender to the sympathizing cosmos, is carried along out of the sorrow of the bird into the primeval sorrow of the world, as it resounds in the roar of the sea.
His heart does not lie right under the surface like a base metal, but must be sought in the depths like gold. Like the godhead behind the structure of the uni- verse, he stands behind his work. George's relationship to Nature is fundamentally different. In him, too, profound forces develop that call up the concept of the demonic; it is a kind of demonic non-feeling, an intended distance of feeling that represents the extreme contrast to Whitman's fellow- feeling. For what attracts George is just the dead, lifeless, Anti- Natural.
For this, however, his imagination finds images that can only be considered as the outburst of a first Surrealism. In the do- main of the figure of the horrible late Roman Emperor-Priest Al- gabal, intensified to the point of the unnatural, George paints a garden landscape that arises out of the same form of consciousness as Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mai: My garden requires no air and no sun, The garden I built for my pondering, Its birds are motionless flocks, and none Ever has welcomed the advent of spring.
The trunks are of coal and of coal are the shoots, The hedges and fields draw a scowling design, A never harvested burden of fruits Glitters like lava in groves of pine. Banished to the "Realm Below" by the poet. Magic Anti-Nature of enthralling lifelessness. Until the concluding verse demands the impossible, in magic exorcism: But when my fantasy conquered my gloom I asked, as I pensively made my rounds: How can I evoke you in sacred bounds, Strange, and large, and sombre bloom? An enigmatic symbolism. Whom does the "sombre bloom" mean?
GundolP interprets it as the "sensually-dark sign of the mys- tery of procreation, of growth, which is no longer subject to percep- tion and will, and without the conquest of which the dream of perfec- tion is imperfect. The last question raises the gloomy vision of the Realm Below as a powerful one, to which, however, the most profound thing, the creative unconscious, is denied. The sentimental poet, says Schiller, 13 "leaves reality in order to rise to ideas and to master his material with free and independent action. But then Schiller's conclusion applies only too easily.
George's Algabal poem of has prepared the way here; it suggests, at the same time, thai this surrealistic spasm has an undertone of unconscious despair and melancholy: We never shall tremble in earthly distress, We, who were born for the purple of thrones. Ill Conversation with the unconscious has in both poets led to poems in which the same image is elaborated poetically.
The con- trasts become clear all the more sharply. In Whitman's song of himself, "Walt Whitman," this primal song of the leaves of grass symbol, the fifth section presents some- thing like a little myth of a meeting between the self and the soul. The conversation is carried on so passionately, that it is well to remember from the beginning that with the word you the poet is addressing not a beloved, but his own soul: I mind how once we lay, such a transparent summer morning; How you settled your head athwart my hips, and gently turn'd over upon me, And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart, 26 WALT WHITMAN ABROAD And reach'd till you felt my beard, and reach'd till you held my feet.
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth; And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own, And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own; And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers; And that a kelson of the creation is love.
The poet seeks an image for the most profound evocation of the soul, and finds only a very elemental one that can satisfy him— the plunging of the tongue into the bared heart. The surprising thing, however, is the completely undiscordant unity with which the conscious and the unconscious and the universal are felt to be fused into one.
And the invocation of God for this process. In George the third aphoristic poem in the second book of the Stern des Bundes is formed from the same basic image. Here the spiritual eros reaches out of the middle of the Maximin experience to souls that are to be united in the league: On your breast where I can hear your heart beat, Let me lay my mouth to suck the festered Sores of former fevers, as a healing Stone upon a wound extracts the venom.
When my hand takes yours, a current runs Through your body, and you move untrammelled. Sigh no more that turbid fumes which foul Dreams have bred, torment your rallied spirit Over and over again. They flame disbanded In the conflagration of this passion. But in place of that undiscordant feeling of God-All that links man and universe, George's poem shows a state of the interior of the soul, which is tortured by the suppressed vapors of dreams, by suppurating fevers, by wounds to the soul.
Here we have, in contrast to young America, Europe, a seriously ill cultural soul, which needs healing. Resscntir—to feel the afterpains in the soul from wounds that life has inflicted on us; the wound of mortal jealousy, as Scheler 10 has X-rayed it, as spiritual auto-intoxication, as thirst for revenge, which has not worked its way out to the surface, and which turns inward and poisons itself. A disease of the age to which all those who are sentimental are exposed, all who have fallen from the naive structure of the cosmos, from the equilibrium, from the relationship between God and the cosmos.
The Europe of the turn of the century rises up, with its spiritual burdens, impeded in all natural impulses of community. The individual is encapsulated within himself, exposed to the weight of the masses, who are smothering his cultural force. The same age that leads to psycho- analysis, to the increase in neurotics, in neuroses, that ushered in the Freudian theory 20 as a doctrine of salvation around , in Vienna at the same time that Whitman and George begin to have an influence.
The two poems gain their special significance against such a background. Whitman's passionately flooding cosmic feeling that links the conscious and the unconscious is, at the same time, the nameless mass-feeling, the yea-saying, endorsed by the spirit of the age, to the divine in all the forms of tension of the age.
It is just in this, that Schiller's characterization of the naive poet is again ful- filled. IV With this we have reached a first point, a center of existence, from which the perspectives spread out. In Whitman's undiscordant cosmic feeling lies a key to his whole work. Here an optimism of progress, a yea-saying to the masses, to technology, to the techno- logical development of the world under an ideally seen democracy establishes the fact that here the representative face of America emerges.
The greatness within it is not restrained by a preach- ing tone that celebrates the ideal of the mass in songs streaming forth immeasurably broad. What breaks through as greatness again and again is in the fanatically young, integral core, which, rushing along, fills itself with views of this felt age of the masses, and which, at the same time, advances prophetically into the future. There is a true core of faith in it, which gleams like a glowing sun from the center of each of these gigantic hymns, and is entirely permeated by the certainty that the unity experienced daily in the whirlpool of the whole is nothing but God Himself.
One of the sublimest, solemn Whitman confessions into the future, a true world vision that encompasses America as well as Europe, may stand here, at the same time, as a striking expression of Whitman's experience of God: a poem, "Years of the Modern," which first appeared in , having arisen under the shock of the Civil War: Years of the modern! Your horizon arises— I see it parting away for more august dramas; I see not America only— I see not only Liberty's nation, but other nations preparing; I see tremendous entrances and exits— I see new combinations— I see the solidarity of races; I see that force advancing with irresistible power on the world's stage; Have the old forces, the old wars, played their parts?
I see Freedom, completely arm'd, and victorious, and very haughty, with Law on one side, and Peace on the other, A stupendous Trio, all issuing forth against the idea of caste; —What historic denouements are these we so rapidly approach? I see men marching and countermarching by swift millions; I see the frontiers and boundaries of the old aristocracies broken; I see the landmarks of European kings removed; I see this day the People beginning their landmarks all others give way; —Never were such sharp questions ask'd as this day; Never was average man, his soul, more energetic, more like a God; Lo!
Are all nations communing? Is there going to be but one heart to the globe? Is humanity forming, en-masse? Your dreams, O year, how they penetrate through me! I know not whether I sleep or wake!