Analysis Of To Those Whove Fail English Literature Essay

Published: 2021-07-05 07:15:04
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Walt Whitman was a poet, essayist and journalist. He is considered to be one of the greatest American poets and the father of free verse. Whitman was one of the representatives of the transition between transcendentalism to realism, his work being influenced by both movements. His writings have been described as "rude shock" and „the most audacious and debatable contribution yet made to American literature". Leaves of Grass is his greatest a poetry , though the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent his entire life writing Leaves of Grass, revising it in several editions until his death. Among the poems in the collection are "Song of Myself", "I Sing the Body Electric", "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking", and in later editions, Whitman's elegy to the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd". The poem chosen by me, To those who've fail'd is a poem form book XXXIV -Sands at seventy, part of the volume Leaves of Grass. In the following pages I will attempt analyse To those who've fail'd, starting from the first line, working the way to find the meaning behind the word and if this poem can be called an elegy, with a particular emphasis on the idea of failure, correlated with A. Scott Sandage book, Born Losers: A History of Failure in America.
From a prosodic point of view, the poem is composed of one stanza divided into 7 lines with a undefined rhythm which can vary from 6 syllables in the last line to 25 syllables in the fourth line. The use of the signs of punctuation represents another prosodic element to be taken into consideration. For example, the repeated use of the hyphen between the noun phrases in the third line: "To calm, devoted engineers—to over-ardent travellers—to pilots on their ships" or between the phrases in the fourth: "To many a lofty song and picture without recognition—I’d rear laurel cover’d monument" act as a pause in speech as this poem is built as a discourse and aid the rhythm of the poem If we would take what is between the hyphens as being separate lines we would have a more balanced rhythm in the poem. The hyphen from the fifth line: "High, high above the rest—To all cut off before their time," marks the pause in the middle of the line to highlight the presence of a caesura in the poem. Another example is the unusual use of the apostrophes in the words "fail’d", "unnam’d", cover’d", "possess’d", "quench’d". They indicate the omission of the vowel e. From a grammatical point of view, the use of the apostrophe in these words is incorrect, but from the poet’s point of view their use is subjective. Their use is to mark the present voice in order to make the discourse more credible. The present tense is used to mark repeated actions which make the process of death for those who didn’t manage to materialize their achievements as a continuous and never-ending process in time. Apart from this, taking the idea of the unusual use of the apostrophe out of the prosodic context, we may infer that Whitman intentionally did this to achieve his purpose. An apostrophe is from a rhetorical point of view "an address to an imaginary or absent person or a personification" [1] . Therefore, the author intentionally left an inter-textual reference.
From the first look this poem appears to be about the ones who haven't succeeded in accomplishing their goals: fallen soldiers, devoted engineers, over-ardent travelers. The title is rewritten in the first line, possible to emphasize to whom the poem is addressed, then it is specified whom the failures are, they are the persons who failed in their aspiration. Aspiration, can be defined as a cherished desire, synonym to ambition, to a dream ,but aside for meaning A strong desire for high achievement, it has a second definition: Expulsion of breath in speech, giving a stronger image that its synonyms, "in aspirations vast" suggesting exactly the ones who've failed in their deepest quests, as elementary as breathing. Then the poet evolves to name some of the failures he sings : "To unnam’d soldiers fallen in front on the lead"; this is an idea reassessed from Song of myself , section 18:
"Vivas to those who have fail'd!
And to those whose war-vessels sank in the sea!
And to those themselves who sank in the sea!
And to all generals that lost engagements, and all overcome
Heroes!
And the numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest
Heroes known!"
This section of "Song of Myself" is a commentary on the many fallen heroes that fight battles for us in war, and never come home to the victory parades, bands and marches that are thrown in honor of returning armies. On the subject of war, he says that his song is for the defeated as much as the victorious. Those who failed in battle are no less deserving of praise than those who succeeded. He doesn't divide the world into "winners" and "losers." What he discusses, raising the happy bands and parades for the fallen, is a poignant point to make; unfortunately, it is the fallen men and women of war who never hear the praises and accolades sung for them. The meaning of the poem can also be applied to areas outside of war; for anyone who has ever suffered failures and trials, for everyone who has struggled and had a hard fight. Whitman, a man who feels a connection to everyone in life, no matter their station or success, wants to sing the praises of all.
In the following line he states another type of losers: the engineers. The 19th century saw the birth of science as a profession, in this era there was made the foundation for technological development, and names such as  Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Alfred Nobel instantly come to mind when thinking of engineers that innovated the world with their inventions. And if we think of failures, we come across famous people or the early setbacks of people who eventually succeeded, such as Thomas Edison or Ulysses S. Grant failing and later becoming successful. We never think about the hundreds, the thousands of engineers that haven't succeeded in discovering what they worked on for endless long hour, these "calm, devoted engineers" who wasted their lives without becoming famous. After engineers, the poet sings the failure of "over-ardent travelers" and "to pilots on their ships", people who failed to reached they destity, because of various reasons, such as shipwreck, lack of money etc. Travel in the nineteenth century was still much slower and more difficult and the probability for an accident was very high because of traffic rules were just being introduced [2] than it is today that it is not easy to remember that it was also a time of significant change and improvement. To the late nineteenth century, the railroad was in function for more than 50 years, the automobile was in its infancy, the important thing being that they were in continuous development.
The last four lines are the actual respects paid "those who've fail'd". As I said before, those people weren't mentioned in the victory discourses, or by the inventors in their books, and no statue was raised for them in the new founds colonies. Only the living matter, the "Quench’d by an early death" , who didn't have the chance to fulfill their destiny were long forgotten. But Whitman, as he stated before in his poems, he wants to be the poet of all, both good and evil, winners and failures, known and forgotten : an universal poet that commemorate even the common "grass" that grows under our feet.
Therefore after understanding these elements, "To those who’ve fail’d" the reader could trace up that the poem possesses the elements necessary to be an elegy. An elegy, as The Free Online Dictionary puts it, is "a poem or song composed especially as a lament for a deceased person" [3] . Thus, taking into consideration the previous definition, this poem is a literary discourse addressed to the readers to express mourning and remembrance. Also, the poem contains reflective elements to what once existed to express the feeling of loss and longing for the past which means that all the elements of it have a deeper meaning. First of all, the point of view of the poem is set on the first person- identified in the first pronoun "I" in the fourth line; the author is the transmitter of the elegy to the audience, which is represented by us, the readers. This is done due to the fact that the elegy is the expression of personal thoughts and feelings towards the deceased. Furthermore, a gradual process must be attained in order to transmit the message to the readers. The first three lines consist of stating the purpose; for whom the elegy is meant for. The ones which are meant to be commemorated are those who failed in their ambition of to achieve highly, are those who fought in the front lines to defend an idea, to the inventors seen as through the engineers and to the explorers seen through the travellers and the pilots. These persons are anonymous, but they all have something in common by judging the use of vocabulary. The author chooses to use words such as "aspiration", "front on the lead", "devoted", "over-ardent" for the deceased in order to express his admiration for those people who attempted to overpass their social or intellectual position. The following lines construct the meditative elements of the poem. Here, the narrator brings the comfort offering a positive image to which the readers and the audience may associate his words. We now know that the ones to whom the elegy is meant for are worthy to be commemorated. The choice of "lofty", "without recognition" or "laurel cover’d" is meant to construct expressions to build and to reach our admiration for the deceased. It is also an attempt to materialize their worthiness to prevent them from oblivion. Moreover, the pompous songs and the dedicated monuments are an effort to offer those who died trying the same recognition only heroes and high achievers get. He finishes by mentioning what caused the sorrow creating the effect of a nostalgic contrast with the previous lines. Usually, an elegy includes references to major achievements in the dead person’s life. It is in this passage in which we observe the fact that this poem commemorates the ones who couldn’t achieve anything or couldn’t reach their purpose in life due to early tragic deaths. Also, we realize that the author appeals to our memory. Time and history does not recollect or recognize those who couldn’t achieve something in order to be worth mentioning. The soldiers fight for an idea or to for a better social life, if they die in the battlefield along with the many they are forgotten and remain "unam’d". The engineers of the 19th century were seen as inventors and technological pioneers and; as those who appeal to aspiration for the act of creation; they dedicated their lives in order to see their thoughts become reality. They are recalled by history only when their invention or creation is done, otherwise they are forgotten. The over-passionate travellers and the pilots are those seek the unknown, but if they fail to unravel it so does their recognition. Therefore, in my opinion, the message the speaker tries to express to us is that (TO BE CONTINUED)
In his book Born Losers: A History of Failure in America, Scott A. Sandage, professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University, argues that the notion of failure as something that defines one’s identity is a relatively recent invention with its roots in the entrepreneurial capitalism of nineteenth-century America.
The two major drivers of changing American attitudes toward failure in the long term have been, obviously, the growth of capitalism and, much less obviously, the emancipation of slaves. Prior to the Civil War, there were two categories of identity in American life: slaves and free people. After the Civil War, there are two categories of identity in American life: successes and failures. Obviously success and failure is much more of a continuum than slave or free. On the other hand, because it is a continuum and explained within the idea of meritocracy, it is much easier to blame or to make moral judgments about the deficiencies of someone who fails than it was to blame someone for being a slave. Failure meant basically nothing before these changes, because the concept of failure as something that defines your whole identity is a new thing. In terms of language, it doesn’t exist at all before the Civil War: you will not find a sentence like "I feel like a failure" in American writing before 1860. And it is, strangely enough, the usual literary suspects who recognize the metaphoric value of business failure and begin to use it in ways that describe what the culture is doing with that metaphor, meaning that they begin to use it as a metaphor for personal failure—not because they agree with the metaphor but because they have recognized that the culture is moving toward taking business success or failure as being the thing that defines your soul. I’m thinking of people like Thoreau and Whitman, who writes the poem "To Those Who’ve Fail’d" in Leaves of Grass.


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