Walt Whitman

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Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an America poet, school teacher, and figure in the movement of Transcendentalism.[1] Born in Huntington, on New York's Long Island, and raised in Brooklyn, he received no schooling after turning 11 years old. He glorified the common man in his poems, and even campaigned for the populist presidential candidate Martin Van Buren.

His poetry usually eschews traditional rhymes, meters and themes in favor of free verse, reflecting the themes of democratic egalitarianism and personal liberty that permeated his verse. The first edition of his major work, Leaves of Grass, was self-published in 1855 as a 95-page volume containing a preface and twelve untitled poems.[2] One of the first to receive a copy of Leaves of Grass was the American intellectual and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who praised the book as "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed."[3] Later Emerson would become critical of Whitman's mode of expressing sexuality, a criticism shared by others who perceived amoral and homoerotic aspects in his writings. Only in later years did his powerful writing style and American themes win Whitman the admiration of the literary community. Whitman spent his later years working as a nurse in hospitals during the Civil War caring for the wounded. There are still extant many letters from soldiers and their families expressing deep thanks and love for Whitman's benevolence at this time. Henry James attempted to emulate Whitman by visiting hospitals during WWI but his biographies have noted that despite his sincerity he was not able to connect as deeply as Whitman was.

Whitman died and was buried in Camden, New Jersey, and a major bridge spanning the river to Philadelphia is named after him. By the 1891-92 "Deathbed" edition, Leaves of Grass had grown to encompass 293 poems.[4]

In large part because of his more overt expressions of sexuality, he has often been assumed by the leftist-dominated literature departments to be homosexual. However, this was not true, and in fact, when an actual sexual deviant arrived in America, he denounced him.

Major Poems

  • "I Hear America Singing"
  • "Song of Myself"
  • "I Sing the Body Electric"
  • "I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing"
  • "Song of the Open Road"
  • "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"
  • "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"
  • "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"
  • "O Captain! My Captain!"


  1. Transcendental Legacy in Literature
  2. http://www.whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/encyclopedia/entry_21.html
  3. http://web.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap4/whitman.html
  4. http://www.whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/encyclopedia/entry_27.html

External links