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Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman Walt Whitman[1†]

Walt Whitman, born as Walter Whitman Jr. on May 31, 1819, in Huntington, New York, U.S., was an influential American poet, essayist, and journalist[1†][2†]. His verse collection, “Leaves of Grass,” first published in 1855, is considered a landmark in the history of American literature[1†][2†]. Whitman’s writing style incorporated both transcendentalism and realism, and he is often referred to as the father of free verse[1†].

Whitman’s work was controversial during his time, particularly his poetry collection “Leaves of Grass,” which was described by some as obscene due to its overt sensuality[1†]. Despite the controversy, Whitman’s influence on poetry remains strong. Art historian Mary Berenson once said, "You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without "Leaves of Grass"... He has expressed that civilization, ‘up to date,’ as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him"[1†]. Modernist poet Ezra Pound called Whitman "America’s poet... He is America"[1†].

Early Years and Education

Walt Whitman was born as Walter Whitman Jr. on May 31, 1819, in West Hills, Long Island, New York[2†][3†]. He was the second of nine children in a family that had settled in North America in the first half of the 17th century[2†]. His mother, Louisa Van Velsor, was of Dutch descent, and his father, Walter Whitman, was of English descent[2†]. They were farm people with little formal education[2†].

In 1823, the Whitman family moved to Brooklyn, which was experiencing a boom at the time[2†]. Whitman’s father, a carpenter by trade, speculated in real estate and built houses for artisans, but he was a poor manager and had difficulty providing for his large family[2†].

Whitman attended public school in Brooklyn for a few years[2†][3†]. He developed a love for reading at an early age[2†][3†]. By 1830, his formal education was over, and for the next five years, he learned the printing trade[2†][3†]. This early exposure to the written word and the mechanics of printing would later influence his career as a poet and journalist[2†][3†].

In 1838-39, Whitman taught school on Long Island and edited the Long Islander newspaper[2†][4†]. By 1841, he had become a full-time journalist, editing several papers and writing prose and verse for New York and Brooklyn journals[2†][4†].

Whitman’s early years and education were marked by his family’s financial struggles, his early exit from formal education, and his introduction to the world of print and journalism. These experiences undoubtedly shaped his worldview and influenced his later work as a poet[2†][3†][4†].

Career Development and Achievements

Walt Whitman’s career was marked by his work as a journalist, teacher, government clerk, and most notably, a poet[1†]. His major poetry collection, “Leaves of Grass,” first published in 1855, was financed with his own money and became well known[1†]. The work was an attempt to reach out to the common person with an American epic[1†]. Whitman continued expanding and revising “Leaves of Grass” until his death in 1892[1†].

During the American Civil War, Whitman moved to Washington, D.C., and worked in hospitals caring for the wounded[1†]. His poetry often focused on both loss and healing[1†]. Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, whom Whitman greatly admired, he authored two poems, “O Captain! My Captain!” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”, and gave a series of lectures on Lincoln[1†].

Whitman’s anthology of poems entitled “Leaves of Grass” explored America’s history, including the country’s involvement during the Civil War[1†][5†]. He also published journals and various non-fiction works such as 'Democratic Vistas’[1†][5†]. In addition, he is credited with designing the free verse in poetry[1†][5†].

Whitman served as a volunteer in Washington hospitals during the Civil War[1†][6†]. His prose “Democratic Vistas” (1871) and “Specimen Days & Collect” (1882–83) drew on his wartime experiences and subsequent reflections[1†][6†].

Whitman invigorated language, he could be strong yet sentimental, and he possessed scope and inventiveness[1†][7†]. He portrayed the relationships of an individual’s body and soul and the universe in a new way, often emancipating poetry from contemporary conventions[1†][7†]. He had sufficient universality to be considered one of the greatest American poets[1†][7†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Walt Whitman’s most significant work is his collection of poetry, “Leaves of Grass”, which he first published in 1855[2†][8†]. This collection underwent eight subsequent editions during his lifetime as Whitman expanded and revised the poetry and added more to the original collection of 12 poems[2†][8†]. Some of the notable poems from this collection include “Song of Myself”, “I Sing the Body Electric”, and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d"[2†][9†].

In addition to “Leaves of Grass”, Whitman published several other books, both poetry and prose[2†][10†]. These include “Drum-Taps”, “Sequel to Drum-Taps”, and "Memoranda During the War"[2†][10†]. “Drum-Taps”, published in 1865, includes the poem “O Captain! My Captain!”, Whitman’s elegy for President Lincoln[2†][8†].

Here are some of Whitman’s main works along with the year of first publication:

Whitman’s work was groundbreaking in its time, and he is often credited with inventing the free verse style of poetry[2†][8†]. His work was controversial due to its overt sensuality and the self-presentation of Whitman as a rough working man[2†][8†]. Despite the mixed critical reception in the US, Whitman was favorably received in England, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne among the British writers who celebrated his work[2†][8†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Walt Whitman’s poetry is democratic in both its subject matter and its language[11†]. As the great lists that make up a large part of Whitman’s poetry show, anything—and anyone—is fair game for a poem[11†]. Whitman is concerned with cataloguing the new America he sees growing around him[11†]. His work created a lasting impact on American poetry, receiving praise for its democratic spirit and celebration of the human body[11†][12†].

Whitman’s work was groundbreaking in its time, and he is often credited with inventing the free verse style of poetry[11†][8†]. His work was controversial due to its overt sensuality and the self-presentation of Whitman as a rough working man[11†][8†]. Despite the mixed critical reception in the US, Whitman was favorably received in England, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne among the British writers who celebrated his work[11†][8†].

Whitman’s poetry is known for its exploration of the connection between the self and the world through an influential utilization of free verse[11†][12†]. His preference for the quotidian links him with both Dante, who was the first to write poetry in a vernacular language, and with Wordsworth, who famously stated that poetry should aim to speak in the “language of ordinary men”[11†].

For Whitman, spiritual communion depends on physical contact, or at least proximity. The body is the vessel that enables the soul to experience the world[11†]. Therefore the body is something to be worshipped and given a certain primacy[11†]. Eroticism, particularly homoeroticism, figures significantly in Whitman’s poetry[11†]. This is something that got him in no small amount of trouble during his lifetime[11†].

The erotic interchange of his poetry, though, is meant to symbolize the intense but always incomplete connection between individuals[11†]. Having sex is the closest two people can come to being one merged individual, but the boundaries of the body always prevent a complete union[11†]. The affection Whitman shows for the bodies of others, both men and women, comes out of his appreciation for the linkage between the body and the soul and the communion that can come through physical contact[11†].

Personal Life

Walt Whitman was born as Walter Whitman Jr. on May 31, 1819, in West Hills, Long Island, New York, U.S[2†][1†]. He was the second of nine children born to Quaker parents Walter and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman[2†][1†]. His father named three of his seven sons after American leaders: Andrew Jackson, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson[2†][1†]. Whitman was immediately nicknamed “Walt” to distinguish him from his father[2†][1†].

At the age of four, Whitman moved with his family from Huntington to Brooklyn, living in a series of homes, in part due to his father’s bad investments[2†][1†]. Whitman looked back on his childhood as generally restless and unhappy, given his family’s difficult economic struggles[2†][1†]. One happy moment that he later recalled was when he was lifted in the air and kissed on the cheek by the Marquis de Lafayette during a celebration of the setting of the Brooklyn Apprentices’ Library’s cornerstone by Lafayette in Brooklyn on July 4, 1825[2†][1†].

Living in New York with his parents, and with his father struggling to make ends meet, Whitman left school at age 11 to help contribute to the household[2†][13†]. He got work assisting a law office in the city before turning to the printing business, developing skills that would later inform his work in self-publishing[2†][13†].

After suffering a stroke towards the end of his life, Whitman moved to Camden, New Jersey, where his health further declined[2†][1†]. When he died at the age of 72 on March 26, 1892, his funeral was a public event[2†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Walt Whitman’s legacy is vast and enduring. His innovative poetry, which challenged traditional narratives and championed the individual soul over social conventions, continues to resonate with new generations of Americans[14†]. Whitman is considered a symbol of American democracy[14†], and his influence on the field of fictional writing is still felt many years after his death[14†][15†].

Whitman’s work, particularly “Leaves of Grass,” was groundbreaking for its verse style and its challenge to traditional narratives[14†]. He presented himself as a rough and free spirit, and his poetry has continued to resonate with new generations of Americans[14†]. Whitman is considered a symbol of American democracy[14†].

Even 200 years after his birth, Whitman’s textual legacy continues to grow[14†][16†]. His volumes of prose, some of which were only discovered recently, have landed him on the front page of the New York Times twice in as many years[14†][16†]. These works testify to the staggering velocity with which Whitman produced written words during his lifetime[14†][16†].

Whitman’s legacy is not just in his published works, but also in his influence on American culture and identity[14†][17†]. He believed in the potential of every individual and saw the key to American identity as a vast empathy with all the “others” in the culture[14†][17†].

In conclusion, Walt Whitman was one of the most influential figures in American literature. His innovative style and themes have left a lasting impact on the field of poetry and beyond[14†][16†][15†][17†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Walt Whitman [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Walt Whitman: American poet [website] - link
  3. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Walt Whitman Biography [website] - link
  4. Hampsong Foundation - Walt Whitman Biography [website] - link
  5. SunSigns - Walt Whitman Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  6. Britannica - Walt Whitman summary [website] - link
  7. Britannica - Walt Whitman - Poet, Innovator, Legacy [website] - link
  8. Poetry Foundation - Walt Whitman [website] - link
  9. Literary Devices - Walt Whitman [website] - link
  10. The Walt Whitman Archive - Published Works [website] - link
  11. SparkNotes - Whitman’s Poetry: Analysis [website] - link
  12. SparkNotes - Whitman’s Poetry: Study Guide [website] - link
  13. Mental Floss - 10 Things You Might Not Know About Walt Whitman [website] - link
  14. Britannica - What is Walt Whitman’s legacy? [website] - link
  15. IvyPanda - Essay Example - Walt Whitman and His Literary Legacy - 1073 Words [website] - link
  16. Ransom Center Magazine - 200 years later, Walt Whitman’s legacy continues to grow [website] - link
  17. University of Rochester - Walt Whitman ‘more important now than ever’ Walt Whitman more important now [website] - link
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