Published by Koharu on 10 Nov 2009 at 10:36 am
The introduction to ‘Franklin Evans’ or ‘The Inebriate’ revealed a side of Whitman that many texts decline to show. Walt Whitman is best known as the people’s poet – a man who dedicated his life to writing poetry with the potential to unite an entire nation. He accepted African Americans as fellow men in a time when the rest of society considered them sub-human. Whitman accepted everyone…except Catholics and Irish Immigrants. In Whitman’s own words, the immigrants were:
Bands of filthy wretches whose very touch was offensive to a decent man; drunken loafers; scoundrels whom the police and criminal courts would be ashamed to receive in their walls.
He went on to call them “sly, false, deceitful villains” and true to his nativist beliefs called on his fellow Americans to defend the country against an “unterrified democracy” ruled by “Irish rabble”.
Whitman seems to have despised Catholics, calling them “a gang of false and villainous priests, whose despicable souls never generate any aspiration beyond their own narrow and horrible and beastly superstition”. He never passed up a chance to criticize them, a far cry from the accepting poet I’ve come to know over the semester, who was never this blatantly insensitive and insulting even when addressing people with views that opposed his. Whitman was and is indeed the people’s poet, so long as you’re not Catholic, Irish or an immigrant.