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Further, as each of these personas has its own unique characteristics, so does the voice of the speaker in addressing such a persona.Thus we receive poems that are alternately informing, inviting, sharing with, and pushing away the reader.By using such direct conversational devices, Whitman was able to connect with his reader as no other poet did.
With this definition, we see that apostrophe is in fact in opposition to the effect Whitman was trying to achieve-- that of an immediate and personal connection to the reader who is very much present in the poetic experience.
This leaves a variety of vague words: "you," "reader," "reader-you." Perhaps the most effective term is that of "addressee." This term not only accounts for the speaker's tone, it also gives a sense of the interaction between the speaker and the reader.
Ezra Greenspan notes, "The journalistic style of intimate address to the reader was extremely common in the midcentury years. Indeed, directly addressing the "gentle reader" was also common among prose authors of the time. the engagement of the reader was more dynamic and lasting than it was with his major contemporaries, and more sincere and serious than with journalistic usage" (109).
Writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Linda Brent (aka Harriet Jacobs) often spoke directly to their readers, or in the very least made generalized appeals to their moral sensibilities. Whitman's poetry exuded more power than the works of his peers, both journalistically and literarily, in major part because of the way he approached his audience.
He had faith in their ability to read and understand the goals of his poems. In assuming intelligence, Whitman assumed the reader's ability to synthesize unique thoughts and the desire for further knowledge.
He did not, however, always assume a completely knowledgeable reader, particularly when it came to the more universal, spiritual aspects of life.Indeed, we know that this individual search for knowledge is meant as one of the major ideas behind "Song of Myself" because we are told so by the speaker as the poem nears its conclusion: "You are also asking me questions and I hear you,/ I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself" (lines 1223-1224).Yet, while the speaker claims to be unable to answer, the questions are also clearly not asked solely for the addressee alone to answer.In addition to simply understanding "you" as the reader, however, it is necessary to define this particular, unique speaker-reader relationship with an effective term.Perhaps the closest literary term is that of "apostrophe." However, apostrophe is defined by M. Abrams as "a direct and explicit address either to an absent person or to an abstract or nonhuman entity" (182)." (line 32), "Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?" (line 382), and the aforementioned "What are you?In order for there to be an addressee, there must be an addressor speaking directly to that addressee.Further, by using the term addressee, we get a sense that there is a concrete aim for the speaker's words: a human, living reader.This allowed Whitman's speaker to take on an all-knowing, omniscient persona, which in turn gave the addressee the role of a child or student.This style of "platform poetry" is marked most by its use of rhetorical questions, aimed directly at the reader (Hollins 91).