FROM THE OFFICIAL CONTEST:
Walt Whitman Birthplace State
Historic Site & Interpretive Center
246 Old Walt Whitman Road,
Huntington Station, NY 11746
phone: 631-427-5240 || fax:
Theme Announcement &
voice of the elements
Contest: Become the poetic voice of
Earth, Wind, Water or Fire
Walt Whitman often celebrated
the elements of nature in their many shapes and forms.
In his poem, The Voice of
the Rain, Whitman
translates the words of the rain:
And who art thou? said I to the soft-falling
Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here
I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain,
Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the
Upward to heaven, whence, vaguely form’d, altogether
changed, and yet the same,
I descend to lave the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of
And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent,
And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own
origin, and make pure and beautify it;
(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment,
Reck’d or unreck’d, duly with love returns.)
For this year’s contest, you should become the voice, or
speak the words, of one of the four elements of nature:
Earth, Wind, Water or Fire. The elements take many
forms. For instance, the Wind may exist as a breeze, a
waft, a gale, a tempest, an ill-wind, a tornado, etc.
The Earth could be a continent, an island, a mountain, an
acre of arid soil, the bottom of the sea, etc. Try to
capture the spirit of one form and speak for it.
Become the element, and experience its personality, its
wishes and desires. What are its dreams, secrets,
and/or fears? What does it know and do best? Why
is it speaking?
In the poem above, Whitman follows the rain in its
travels from the land and sea to heaven and back. Read
his poem aloud. Talk about it in class. What is
the rain saying? What is meant by the last two lines?
Why does Whitman use parentheses? What is this poem
about? Notice Whitman’s vocabulary and unusual words.
Try and speak poetically in the tone of your element and use
descriptive words to reflect its essence; rely on verbs and
nouns, in addition to adjectives, to convey emotion and
Read other Whitman poems, such as: Earth, My Likeness;
Proud Music of the Storm; and Roots and Leaves
Themselves Alone. Notice Whitman’s use of
alliteration, assonance, simile and metaphor to enlarge the
image and theme. Find the rhythm in your element and
reproduce it in your poem. And now, let the elements
In order to write this poem, you
will need to think of the things of this world that make you
joyful. Look and listen to those around you. Like
Whitman, consider the many people, places, activities, etc.
in your everyday life.
Use Whitman’s technique of
detailed descriptions and use of the senses to compose your
poem. Include some or all of your senses: see, smell,
taste, touch, hear. Remember to use images, similes
and metaphors to show us your ideas. Your poem should
employ a longer line, like those of Whitman. Search
for unusual words and craft them into poetics of sounds,
repeating letters for alliteration and vowels for assonance.
Try to avoid end rhymes, although slant or internal rhymes
may be used.
With this swirl of involvement
and observation, your writing will capture a world in
Individual poems, individual and class
Contest rules mailed to you in early
Reservations & information:
Carolyn, Education Coordinator,
631-427-5240, ext. 113
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots.
THE WALT WHITMAN BIRTHPLACE
ASSOCIATION IS PROUD TO PRESENT ITS TWENTY-NINTH ANNUAL
The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association maintains and
operates the Walt Whitman Birthplace, home of America’s
greatest poet. All contestants and poetry lovers are
encouraged to visit the Birthplace. School groups may
participate in a variety of unique educational programs.
Category A – Individual poem, grades 3-4
Category G – Class anthology, grades 5-6
Category B – Individual poem, grades 5-6
Category H – Class anthology, grades 7-8
Category C – Individual poem, grades 7-8
Category I – Class anthology, grades 9-10
Category D – Individual poem, grades 9-10
Category J – Class anthology, grades 11-12
Category E – Individual poem, grades 11-12
Category K – Multi-media
Category F – Class anthology, grades 3-4
Category L – Individual anthology
The poems are judged by a panel of published poets
selected by the Birthplace Trustees.