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The form of the long line poem goes back to Walt Whitman's long poem Song of Myself from the poetry collection Leaves of Gras from 1855. It is based on Whitman's adaptation of the biblical verse of the King-James Bible and its "end-stopped-lines" - without enjambements - consisting of the larger units of grammar, the "periodic sentences". According to Donald Wesling, the long line is the basis for the free verse in English. An early example is Williams Carlos Williams' poem The Wanderer. A Rococo Study from 1913, in which Williams, following Whitman, also experimented with the form of the longer, rhythmic but rhymeless text.

A similar form had previously developed in French verset, for example in the Éloges by Saint-John Perse published in 1911. Perse's free-rhythmic hymn, too, is based on elements of ecclesiastical-liturgical rhetoric and psalm-making series: from this tradition Perse developed his irregular, long-line verse similar to Whitman's before him. In his hymnic epic Anabase, published in 1924, Perse also used the free rhythm reminiscent of Walt Whitman's free long lines.

After 1945 the long line has been reactivated in beat lyricism, especially in Alan Ginsberg's Howl of 1955: the influence of William Carlos Williams, the biblical psalms and Walt Whitman's is unmistakable. And in Germany, too, the influence of Whitman, Williams and Ginsberg led to the "long poem" that Walter Höllerer suggested to young authors such as Jürgen Becker, Nicolas Born and Hans Magnus Enzensberger in 1965 as part of the "Literary Colloquium Berlin". In contrast to the static and formal strictness of short poems, the long poem is better suited to recreating the dynamics of reality and its interdependent moments. Later, long lines can be found in the historical poems Durs Grünbein's, for example in the cycle: Asche zum Frühstück from the poetry collection 'Nach den Satiren'; another example is Gerhard Falkner's 2005 long poem Gegensprechstadt - ground zero: an examination of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York. September 2001 in New York, or Nora Gomringer's poems from her 2006 volume Sag doch mal was zur Nacht. Current use of the longliner in the USA can be found above all in the late poems of C. K. Williams, such as The Neighbour:

Her five horrid, deformed little dogs who incessantly yap on the roof under my window.

Her cats, God knows how many, who must piss on her rugs -- her landing's a sickening reek.

Her shadow once, fumbling the chain on her door, then the door slamming fearfully shut,

only the barking and the music -- jazz -- filtering as it does, day and night into the hall.


Eilert, Heide: "Komet der neuen Zeit": zur Rezeption Walt Whitmans in der dt. Lit. des 20. Jh. In: Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur. - Berlin 17 1992, H.2, S. 95/109.