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Ted Genoways is the author of two books of poems and the literary history Walt Whitman and the Civil War. His awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and inclusion in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Travel Writing. He was editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review from 2003 to 2012, during which time he won six National Magazine Awards. Ted Genoways, of the Virginia Quarterly Review, asserts that Walt Whitman delivered American poetry out of the shadow of European literature ushering in a unique style of writing by stating, “So it was, on Independence Day 1855, not only American poetry but also the American artistic stance was born” (2). Whitman proved to be a visionary, breaking societal restraints by giving a refreshingly realistic perspective on life and diverting from the norm of nineteenth century society. He stood as an example of progress, carrying a special characteristic separating him from other poets of his time. Those who break the molds of society by providing realistic perspectives, such as Walt Whitman did, leave more of an impression on others. In the eighteen hundreds he obtained people’s interest in his writing by possessing a great deal of optimism regarding life and what the world has to offer. This attribute of Whitman is astonishing for his time when considering the society in which he belonged. This trait is illustrated in the poetic works he presents. In Song of Myself he exclaims, “The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me… the latter I translate into a new tongue” (38). This quote embodies his idea that it is important to focus on the positive aspects of life. Whitman was also very expressive regarding his views of the self and the positivity of taking the time to understand personal wants and desires. Whitman portrayed optimism primarily through three ideological states: awareness of the self, awareness of nature, and awareness of society. Whitman’s optimistic ideal of the self embodied many different and what seem as contradicting characteristics. He admitted, “I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise / Regardless of others, ever regardful of others / Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man” (35). This quote illustrates Whitman’s awareness of the self by proposing one cannot be explained by only a few personality characteristics, but feels all emotions alike and at different times. This idea exemplifies the profound nature of Whitman’s thoughts. Human emotion is complex and people feel many different emotions every single day. As stated previously, these qualities seem contradicting, however when thinking of the spectrum of human emotion one could easily argue that people feel two opposing emotions at the same time. Through his writing he urges the reader to understand that people are deeper and more complicated than society allowed them to exhibit on the surface. Through this realization, Whitman hoped to have people know themselves better resulting in a more prosperous and accepting society. Whitman’s view of the self is not just that of embracing all emotions and living life to the fullest but he also characterized the self as a divine being. His view of the self can be broken down into two parts: the emotional self and the physical self. Both of these parts he believed are divine alike and to be marveled in:
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am
The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,
This head more...