I'm reading some Fiedler tonight and he has an essay called "the Images of Walt Whitman"; starting with Whitman's own creation of an avatar of Walt Whitman and following his reception globally (what Whitman came to mean in Russia, Europe, etc.), ideologically (Marxists, New Critics, etc.) and his flux in reputation among Americans.
Fiedler writes that in the Cape Hatteras section of The Bridge, Crane's ode to Whitman is what does the poem in for so much criticism. He says, first of all, its not Crane at his best, and even Crane acknowledged this in a letter to Allen Tate..."It's true that my raphsodic address to him in the Bridge exceeds any exact valuation of the mind..." Fiedler says Crane had to work up this ode to Whitman, work up this version of Whitman via America, whether he believed it or not.
Fiedler writes that "the failure of The Bridge was interpreted not as Crane's failure, but as Whitman's. Tate, Blackmur and other seconded Winters and this judgment of the Whitmanian imago via the Bridge soon became a standard conviction of the 'new critics'."
Fielder than writes that, according to critic Van O'Connor, to follow Whitman is to follow the 'bad strain' of American fiction. It's Whitman vs. the tradition from Hawthorne to Melville through James and Eliot in the battle for American literary tradition
Before this, Fiedler traces Whitman in relation to Pound and Amy Lowell. It's really a beautiful essay. All should read!
"One does not easily come to love a poet who is used as a weapon against oneself and one's favorite writers. And Whitman has become precisely such a weapon in the hands of those who condemn Eliot or Pound on the grounds that they have rejected all that Whitman affirms. It is vain to retort with the commonplace that 'poetry affirmeth nought' for Whitman has taught us otherwise. Besides, it is turn and turn about; once the sides were chosen up--Baudelaire against Whitman; Poe, Melville, or Hawthorne against Whitman; Eliot against Whitman--warfare was inevitable. You cannot beat Whitman over the head with Eliot and be surprised when the process is reversed. Such conflicts have a certain strategic value so long as we remember that the causes for which they are fought are not really the poets who bear the same names, but merely their images, tricked out to horrify or allure. Whitman is no more devil than messiah. He is a poet whom we must begin now to rescue from parody as well as apotheosis."