Walt Whitman's prophetic voice in Hispanic lyric poetry: León Felipe, Federico García Lorca, and César Vallejo
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This dissertation explores the prophetic tradition in lyric poetry, focusing on the example set by Walt Whitman and carried forth in Hispanic letters, most notably in the cases of León Felipe, Federico García Lorca, and César Vallejo. By “prophetic” I do not wish to suggest “predictive” but rather a voice that, like the words of the biblical prophets, speaks to an entire community, by turns profoundly critical, but also appealing to human dignity. In the preface to the first (1855) edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman explains the public value of poetry: “[F]olks expect of the poet to indicate more than the beauty and dignity which always attach to dumb real objects…. they expect him to indicate the path between reality and their souls.” (621) The roots of Whitman’s lyric song would grow deep in these three contemporary Hispanic poets, during times of grave social and political crisis. By tracing the influence of Whitman’s prophetic voice in their works, I show how his aesthetic of sacrifice reaches dramatic conclusions in the New York of Lorca’s poetry, as well as in the Spanish Civil War represented in Felipe’s Ganarás la luz and Vallejo’s España, aparta de mí este cáliz. Their prophetic lyric voice rises from Whitman’s song, founded upon a communal humanity and an “I” freed from the limits of the individual self. This voice, which we see in the poetry of Whitman, Felipe, Lorca, and Vallejo, is a lament culminating in the very personal sacrifice of the first-person poetic subject. I show how these four authors respond to the crises in their own times and lives with contemporary public voices that redeem our own human dignity in a world that might seem otherwise abandoned to its own undoing.