Leaves of Grass

Philosophical Parallels in Plato's Meno and the 1855 Leaves of Grass

There are several parallels between the ideas presented in the Socratic dialogue Meno by Plato and the ideas suggested by Walt Whitman's poetry in the first edition of his work Leaves of Grass. Though the Meno is presented as a work of philosophy, and the 1855 edition Leaves of Grass (Leaves) is a work of poetry, the ideas presented within each have certain commonalities with the other. Gay Wilson Allen has characterized Leaves as a "program poem" (Allen 120), meaning that the poet had a set of ideas to communicate. Though Allen quotes Whitman as saying that the poems were written out of "unconscious or mostly unconscious intentions" , the poet was also not aiming at "art or aestheticism" (120) either, so the ideas presented within the poems may be analyzed in a light not only poetic, but philosophical.

In the Socratic dialogues, a central thought that Plato puts forth is rather abstract, called in Greek anamnesis (Silverman, bibliography). It is the recollection of knowledge from some source other than what can be learned in this life. It is, essentially, an assertion that earthly knowledge has an unearthly, other-worldly, or, at least, immaterial source. Plato recounts that Socrates first and...

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