Definitions of Beauty in Whitman and Poe

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In his essay "The Poetic Principle," Edgar Allan Poe denounces the widely accepted notion of Truth as the ultimate goal of a poem. He says that Truth requires one to be "cool, calm, [and] unimpassioned". To Poe, these characteristics are "the exact converse of the poetical" (504). Poe believes that good poetry's real concern should be with man's "immortal instinct," his "sense of the Beautiful," and particularly with the gap between our instinctual sense of Beauty and our inability to recognize it, except in "brief and indeterminate glimpses" (505). In the poem "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," Walt Whitman gives voice to this same notion of transience and fleeting recognition of the supernal in the form of a ferry ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Whitman's use of the ferry represents continual movement just as Poe's belief that the "elevation of the soul" represents a rising process; the ferry in the poem unites all generations and represents what Poe calls "Supernal Beauty", which is portrayed in the poem as a type of ephemeral beauty. The ephemeral beauty portrayed in the poem is everlasting and continuous. Both poets emphasize the importance of the eternal. To Whitman, the ferry ride represents the shared experience of humanity. He is a passenger among other passengers, and these other people are the catalyst that leads to the understanding of the transcendent aspect of humanity. In their shared journey is a sense of the eternal. The ferry gives Whitman a sense of timelessness; this is a journey that has been taken before and will be taken in the future, and this simple fact provides unity. Poe's belief that a poem's worth is in the degree of "the elevation of the soul" and is obtained through "its creation of supernal beauty" is evident through Whitman's appreciation of nature and his relation to overcoming space and time to express humankind's spiritual unity (499). Poe's belief that the true essence of poetry is Beauty is evident in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,"...
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