Walt Whitman’s confident, declamatory style makes him precursor of a line in modern American poetry that runs through Ezra Pound (1885–1972) and Carl Sandburg to the Allen Ginsberg (b. 1926) of Howl (1956) and other ‘Beat Generation’ poets of the 1950s. In the formal proportions of his verse, its promotion of himself and its ebullient optimism, Whitman is a foil to the reserve of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (1821–73), the miniaturist poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830–86), and the dark prophecies of Henry Adams. If by ‘modern’ is meant a historical period lasting from about 1910 to 1940, Emily Dickinson’s withdrawal and her highly individual use of imagery, off-rhyme and unconventional syntax give a foretaste of modernist emphases on impersonality and language. Henry Adams evinces a modernist sense of the massive, alienating power of science.
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