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This Land of Prophets: Walt Whitman in Latin America

  • Enrico Mario Santí
Part of the New Directions in Latino American Cultures book series (NDLAC)

Abstract

In 1943, amidst a year ridden by crisis—personal, political, and poetic— Octavio Paz wrote a proposal to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for one of its yearlong research fellowships. Paz’s proposal called for a study of “America and its Poetic Expression,” by which he meant poetry in both North and South, Anglo and Latin America, and taking at face value the Foundation’s stated criteria for “strengthening interamerican cultural relations and fostering greater continental intelligence.” In that study, which set out to answer one single question:”Do the Americas have a common soul?” Paz sought to isolate, in the history of Western Hemispheric poetry, “those traits that single it out, give it an original native profile, accent, and direction,” though not so much, he warned, in order to show “the forms in which that poetry has crystallized” as “to find in its language the history of a sensibility.” While surveying the span of continental poetry from Sor Juana and Emily Dickinson to Alfonso Reyes and Robert Frost, the proposal did single out three names—Poe, Dario, and Whitman—as sundry cases split into two tendencies: one (Poe’s and Dario’s) universal or cosmopolitan, the other (Whitman’s) a native strain expressing the “burgeoning American soul.” Indeed, Whitman’s name punctuated Paz’s entire proposal, and although he never did complete it (mercifully, perhaps), and instead spent his fellowship year at Berkeley writing his own poetry, the proposal does stand as a key document in the history of what one could call, for lack of a better name, the Whitman question in Spanish America.1

Keywords

Literary History LATIN AMERICA Erratic Relationship Love Poem Distinctive Voice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Octavio Paz, The Bow and the Lyre, trans. Ruth L.C. Simms (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973), 274.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See Doris Sommer, “Supplying Demand: Walt Whitman as the Liberal Self,” in Reinventing the Americas: Comparative Studies of literature of the United States and Spanish America, ed.Bell Gale Chevigny and Gari Laguardia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 68–91.Google Scholar
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  10. Roger Asselineau and William White, eds., Walt Whitman in Europe Today: A Collection of Essays (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1972), 9–12Google Scholar
  11. Sister Agnes V. McLaughlin, “Una comparación entre la poesïa de Luis Llorens Torres y la de Walt Whitman,” Horizontes: Revista de la Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico, 31–32 (1973), 73–93Google Scholar
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    For the texts of this polemic see Lewis Hanke, ed., Do the Americas Have a Common History? A Critique of the Bolton Theory (New York: Knopf, 1964).Google Scholar
  22. 7.
    Octavio Paz, The Siren and the Seashell and Other Essays on Poets and Poetry, trans. Lysander Kemp, et al. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  23. 8.
    See José Marti, “The Poet Walt Whitman,” in Josó Marti, Selected Writings, trans. Esther Allen (NewYork: Penguin, 2002), 183–195Google Scholar
  24. 10.
    See Betsy Erkkila, Walt Whitman Among the French: Poet and Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 11.
    For a discussion of carnival and the carnivalesque, see Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hólòne Iswolsky (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968).Google Scholar
  26. 13.
    See Vasseur, Cantos augurales (Montevideo: O.M. Bertani, 1904), and Alegria, 284).Google Scholar
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    Jorge Luis Borges, “La doctrina de los ciclos” (1934), in Historia de la eternidad (Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1953), 84.Google Scholar
  29. Gonzalo Sobejano, Nietzsche en España (Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1967)Google Scholar
  30. Udo Rukser, Nietzsche in der Hispania: Ein Beitrag zur Hispanischen und Geistesgeschichte (Bern: Francke, 1962).Google Scholar
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    See C.N. Stavrou, Whitman and Nietzsche: A Comparative Study of their Thought (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964), 193.Google Scholar
  32. 16.
    See Harold Bloom, Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976)Google Scholar
  33. 18.
    Nerudareviewed Torres-Rioseco’s translations, Walt Whitman (San José: Costa Rica, 1922)Google Scholar
  34. 19.
    See Pablo Neruda, “Los libros: Poemas del hombre: Libros del corazón, de la voluntad, del tiempo y del mar, por Carlos Sabat Ercasty,” Claridad 87 (May 12, 1923); OC, IV, 311.Google Scholar
  35. 21.
    I quote from The Aleph and Other Stories (1933–1969), ed. Norman Thomas di Giovanni (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1970), 217–218. At a further point in the essay (251) Borges mentions Whitman in a list of literary heroes. Besides Borges s own texts on Whitman, see Alexander A. Coleman, “Notes on Borges and American Literature,” Tri-Quarterly Review 25 (1972), 356–377Google Scholar
  36. Emir Rodriguez Monegal, Jorge Luis Borges: A Literary Biography (NewYork: E.P. Dutton, 1978), 147–149Google Scholar
  37. Jaime Alazraki, “Enumerations as Evocations: On the Use of a Device in Borges s Latest Poetry,” in Borges, the Poet, ed. Carlos Cortínez (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1986), 149–157Google Scholar
  38. 23.
    Jorge Luis Borges, Prologos, con un prologo de prologos (Buenos Aires: Torres Agüero, 1975), 174.Google Scholar
  39. 24.
    Jorge Luis Borges, “La naderia de la personalidad,” in Inquisiciones (Buenos Aires: Gleizer, 1925), 90–93Google Scholar
  40. 27.
    Walt Whitman, Hojas de hierba, trans. Jorge Luis Borges (Buenos Aires: Editora Juarez, 1969), 173.Google Scholar
  41. 29.
    Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, trans. Andrew Hurley (New York: Viking, 1999) 283.Google Scholar
  42. 31.
    See Richard Bürgin, Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969), 95–96Google Scholar

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© Enrico Mario Santí 2005

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  • Enrico Mario Santí

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