Poetry Quotes: Whitman vs Swinburne

Thus, Whitman set out to express in his poetry the soul of his Culture awakening into self-consciousness on its own soil. Not only is the Faustian soul self-conscious; it is eternally restless, constantly striving upward, and possesses a sense of spiritual infinity. All these characteristics are given expression in Whitman’s poetry. ~Walt Whitman Review, 1976

Did you ask dulcet rhymes from me?
Did you find what I sang erewhile so hard to follow, to understand?
Why, I was not singing erewhile for you to follow, to understand — nor am I now;
— What to such as you, anyhow, such a poet as I? — therefore leave my works,
And go lull yourself with what you can understand;
For I lull nobody — and you will never understand me.
~Walt Whitman, “Did You Ask Dulcet Rhymes from Me?,” Drum Taps, 1865

“Did you ask dulcet rhymes from me?” inquires Mr. Whitman of some extraordinary if not imaginary interlocutor; and proceeds, with some not ineffective energy of expression, to explain that “I lull nobody—and you will never understand me.” No, my dear good sir—or camerado: not in the wildest visions of a distempered slumber could I ever have dreamed of doing anything of the kind. The question of whether your work is in any sense poetry has no more to do with dulcet rhymes than with the differential calculus. The question is whether you have any more right to call yourself a poet, or to be called a poet by any man who knows verse from prose, or black from white, or speech from silence, or his right hand from his left, than to call yourself or to be called, on the strength of your published writings, a mathematician, a painter, a political economist, a dynamiter, a civil engineer, an amphimacer, a rhomboid, or a rectangular parallelogram. ~Algernon Charles Swinburne, “Whitmania,” The Fortnightly Review, 1887 August 1st [a little altered –tg]

To have great poets there must be great audiences too. ~Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman … the remarkable American rhapsodist who has inoculated readers and writers with ethical and æsthetic rabies … the genuine energy and the occasional beauty of his feverish and convulsive style of writing … energetic emotion and sonorous expression … a style of rhetoric not always flatulent or inharmonious … exuberant incontinence … so pitiful a profession or ambition as that of a versifier … such were the flute-notes of Diogenes Devilsdung … James Macpherson could at least evoke shadows; Martin Tupper and Walt Whitman can only accumulate words … Mr. Whitman’s Eve is a drunken apple-woman, indecently sprawling in the slush and garbage of the gutter amid the rotten refuse of her overturned fruit-stall; his Venus a Hottentot wench under the influence of cantharides and adulterated rum … the sources of inspiration which infuse into its chaotic jargon some passing or seeming notes of cosmic beauty, and diversify with something of occasional harmony the strident and barren discord of its jarring and erring atoms … but there is a thrilling and fiery force in his finest bursts of gusty rhetoric… ~Algernon Charles Swinburne, phrases extracted from “Whitmania,” in The Fortnightly Review, 1887 August 1st [a little altered –tg]

She took up the volume of Swinburne and began reading it mechanically by the flickering candlelight. The rolling, copious phrases conveyed little meaning to her, but she liked the music of them…. A great tear splashing down across The Triumph of Time recalled her to herself. Often and often, with secret contempt and astonishment, had she seen Esther dissolved in tears over her favourite poets. Should she grow in time to be like Esther, undignified, unreserved? ~Amy Levy (1861–1889), Reuben Sachs: A Sketch, 1888