Politicizing the reader in the American lyric-epic: Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Pablo Neruda's Canto general
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)
Both Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda wanted to create epic works that would distinguish American literature from the literary traditions of Europe, works that would grow organically from the native landscapes and peoples of the Americas. Part of their projects included creating works that would act as political sourcebooks for their cultures. Whitman wanted to foster a democratic culture in the United States through writing a grand poetic work, while Neruda wanted to create a communist culture in Latin America through an epic work. Soon into the project Whitman realized that the traditional epic was not a suitable form for his task, so in attempting to construct a new form, he created the lyric-epic in his Leaves of Grass. Since Neruda believed that Whitman was the first authentic literary voice of the Americas and that the lyric-epic was a native form, he used Leaves of Grass as a paradigm when writing his Canto general. In separate discussions of each work, this study examines the politics of both writers and why they wanted to write political sourcebooks; their use of camaraderie/fraternity to tie readers together for democratic or communist governments; their rewriting of history as redemption and as the progression of democracy or communism; and lastly, their endeavors to teach readers to read as democrats or communists. Ultimately, the study argues that Neruda and Whitman were the foundations and the peaks of their literary traditions and that studying Whitman's and Neruda's lyric-epics reveals a common form for poetic epic attempts in the Americas after Whitman; moreover, it argues that even while Neruda used Leaves of Grass as a paradigm, he wrote a work of equal standing to it in Canto general.
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Allegrezza, William, "Politicizing the reader in the American lyric-epic: Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Pablo Neruda's Canto general" (2003). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 2962.
J. Bainard Cowan