The proof of the poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it Walt Whitman

On its meaning
Whitman desires for acceptance, that his general readers would embrace a poet as much as the poet contemplates its values and composes its songs. A country must claim ownership, or even recognize a sort of filial relationship with a poet, and this is the measure of a true practitioner of the written verse form. Unity with ones country and consequently inseparability with the people is, for Whitman, a poets criterion of being.

But what does Whitman exactly mean Is he suggesting that acceptance be the measure of fame But fame can also be due to notoriety or to popular inadequacy, that acceptance cannot be an absolute criteria. Or perhaps acceptance is the measure of validation That a poet ceases or is incapable to be true unless people do not acknowledge him as much as he does them. This seems to be the more rational interpretation then.

In being true though, understanding is necessary, hence the term validation. What is more striking about the passage is that he uses the verb to absorb as a qualifier. This entails an act of knowing and comprehending a degree above understanding. A poet is validated if he is more than understood, but absorbed by his peers, by his people, by society and the country as a whole.

He should then be necessarily and intrinsically a part of them and of them, accepted, admired, understood, embraced, imbibed. This is to assume that a poet is his poems after all, not all poets are as accepted and admired in the public eye as his works. Take the case of Liam Gallagher who thrives being in the lead vocals of Oasis but infamous as a public persona with his drunken fights and ability to cause familial conflict.

The one-way criterion of being accepted by the country is not enough, since Whitman asserts the necessity of a two-way equally shared affection. The poets part of absorbing the country and its people, Whitman writes it in a way that suggests as if this is already a default attitude of a poet. Absorbing ones country is a natural activity in his profession and craft, since writing involves a deep consideration of its audiences and the environment from which it was created. One can easily agree with this stand. A product of a culture can readily be acknowledged a part of that culture one way or another.

On its validity
Consistent with Immanuel Kants ontology, being a poet should not be a predicate, something that a poet has to possess. Acceptance is something a poet has, as does fame, as does his countrys absorption. Such criteria cannot therefore be intrinsic to a poet because he is more than his possessions. Whitmans remark then, using this Kantian framework of existence or being, would be invalid and untrue.

One vital concern about Whitman statement is whether he wrote it with an intention to be absolute and closed, or if he welcomes other conditions of proving a poet. Since we are only limited to considering this one statement alone, it is justifiable if we take it as absolute.

Does the country really have to identify which are its poets and which are not There is no evidence of this. A poet is a poet by virtue of actively participating in the art and creating poetry as a way of life, means for livelihood, or with the intention to be published. We cannot say that an individual who has written one poem throughout his life can rightly be called a poet, but a poet is true as far as he and his peers or even immediate family is concerned. Taking it more strictly, a poet can be someone who has published his works more than once for public consumption, or even at least reviewed by a peer group. This is how we identify poets nowadays, and we can easily assume that poets are called to be such in Whitmans day given the same circumstances.

It is arguable, indeed, to claim that Whitmans criterion is true or not. After all, his is a theory of fame and acceptance in a grand scale. How many then can be acknowledged as real poets if he is to be taken in unquestionably Only a handful. And the danger of this is that we cannot say that the country has affectionately absorbed them, even though they can definitely claim that they have absorbed the country.

With this, I am perhaps already using Kants ethical principle of the categorical imperative in which acts have to be universal to be considered moral. They also have to treat others as ends in themselves and not means to an end. Whitmans statement would be a conflict with this formula, by having to prove an individual (in this case, a poet) through collective individuals (country) and by universalizing this judgment to apply to everyone would be unacceptable.

On its fulfillment and merit
Another good point to be made regarding Whitmans statement is those acts and situations that would potentially be involved in order for a poet to fulfill his criteria. Hypothetical scenarios would make one imagine that wide and public approval of his works are to be conditions for a poet to be. Whitman, without probably intending to, therefore has made an ontological statement that can be discounted for being mere opinion or assumption.

It is to be acknowledged, however, that fulfilling Whitmans standard of being a poet does result in merit, if it be a sign of fame or acceptance or understanding.

True, Whitman as a poet of renown has perhaps absorbed and portrayed his country in his writings, but there is no way to measure whether he has been affectionately absorbed as well. For one, his Leaves of Grass manuscript was welcomed with controversy and criticized to be mere speculations. Given his standard of judgment then he cannot be likewise called a true poet since he has not proved himself to have been absorbed with affection. Sure, he has become one of the most influential American poets, and this probably accounts for a consolation and claim of being. But can we construe this as definite I do not believe so. But if it ever is, then we can probably cite many poets who write well but have not reached Whitmans status and therefore cannot be called poets. Again, this is problematic.

On the human race as a more inclusive standard of judgment
Having the human race as the standard of judgment would pose as a challenge, but it would be faithful to Kants precept of universality and deontological ethics as a framework for argument. Let us say that poets obligation or duty, true to their title and vocation, is to create poetry. He is bound by this duty in and to the world, and thus his very practice of poetry as his correspondence to the world, regardless of whether his works are understood or accepted by the world, would make him a poet.
On the Whitmans point

Philosophically speaking, Whitmans remark is of little value. It would easily fall under the utilitarian-pragmatic concept of worth as outcome, satisfactory and useful. That is to say, a poet is only a poet if he proves himself by being understood and accepted by his country, or lets even say absorbed. But isnt more true that a poet is a poet in his own merit and right I believe so.

But Whitman must be listened to or must be read. Considering his words carefully is a way to pay tribute to his contributions to American literature. His being a great literary figure especially in the area of poetry, we have to care. After all, his words and works have already proved their value through time. Whether the discourse is positive or negative, time and space must be dedicated to him in philosophy and literature classes, and his thought considered both with a critical eye and sincere applause.


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