Walter Whitman was an American poet
and a son of Long Island. His collection of
poems, "Leaves Of Grass," is considered
one of the world's major literary works.
Whitman was a true patriot. His poems
sing of the praises of the United States of
America and the cause of democracy. The
poet's love of his country grew from his faith that Americans
might reach new worldly and spiritual heights. Whitman
wrote: "The chief reason for the being of the United States of
America is to bring about the common good will of all
mankind, the solidarity of the world."
Whitman began working on "Leaves of Grass" in 1848. This
collection of poetry was so unusual that no publisher would
publish it. In 1855, he published it himself. The edition
contained only 12 poems. In the preface, Whitman said: "The
United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem."
Between 1855 and his death, Whitman published several
revised and enlarged editions of his book. He believed that
"Leaves of Grass" had grown with his own emotional and
" Song of Myself, " is considered Whitman's greatest. It is a
lyric poem told through the joyful experiences of the narrator.
Sometimes the narrator,"I," is the poet himself. In other
passages, "I" speaks for the human race, the universe, or a
specific character being dramatized. Like all Whitman's major
poems, "Song of Myself " contains symbols. For example, in
the poem he describes grass as a symbol of life "the babe of
vegetation," "the handkerchief of the Lord."
Whitman wrote "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"
on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln died in April,
springtime-a time of rebirth in nature. Whitman says that each
spring the blooming lilac will remind him not only of the death
of Lincoln, but also of the eternal return to life.
"O Captain! My Captain!," another poem on Lincoln's death,
is Whitman's most popular poem, but differs from his others in
rhyme and rhythm.
Whitman wrote in a form similar to "thought-rhythm." This
form is found in Old Testament poetry. It is also found in
sacred books of India, such as the Bhagavad-Gita, which
Whitman knew in translation. The rhythm of his lines suggests
the rise and fall of the sea he loved so much. This structure is
better suited to expressing emotion than to logical discussion.
In general, Whitman's poetry is idealistic and romantic.
Walt Whitman's Life
Walter Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island, New
York. While he grew up in Brooklyn, he frequently returned
to his roots. He worked as a printer and journalist in the New
York City area. He wrote articles on politics, civics, and the
arts. Whitman loved New York City and loved the crowds. He
attended debates, the theater, concerts, lectures, and political
meetings. He often rode on stagecoaches and ferries just to
talk with people.
During the Civil War, Whitman was a volunteer assistant in
the military hospitals in Washington, D.C. After the war, he
worked in several government departments until he suffered a
stroke in 1873. He spent the rest of his life in Camden, N.J.,
where he continued to write poems and articles.
Whitman believed that the vitality and variety of his life
reflected the vitality and variety of America. Most critics
accept this view of the man and his poems and some insist he
was a powerful and unusual lyric poet.