Walt Whitman 1819-1892
? Born ? The
on Long Island, New York
he was four, moved to Brooklyn
second of nine children
school for only six years before becoming a printer’s apprentice entirely self-educated, especially admiring the work of Dante, Shakespeare, and Homer.
mother described him as ―very good, but very strange.‖ ? His brother described him as being ―stubborner [sic] than a load of bricks.‖
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Worked in various print shops in New York City
At 17, started his career as a teacher Taught for five years
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Then turned to journalism full-time
Became editor of the New Orleans Crescent
There saw slavery first hand
Moved back to Brooklyn and started a ―free soil‖ newspaper, 1848
1855 self-publishes his first version of Leaves of Grass ? 12 untitled poems ? Sent a copy to Emerson ? Used Emerson’s reply in his next edition – without his permission
Civil War Years
Moves to Washington D.C. to care for his brother (wounded at Antietam) Worked in hospitals and as a clerk at the Department of the Interior
Whitman and Lincoln
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But Whitman saw Lincoln many times Greatly admired the man
Greatly affected by his assassination
Post War/Later Years
Moves to Camden, NJ to care for his mother ? Suffers a stroke; finds it impossible to move back to Washington ? 1882 publication of Leaves of Grass makes him enough money to buy a home
End of his Life
revising poetry ? Last book published 1891 ? Dies on March 26, 1862 ? Buried in Camden in tomb of his own design ? His autopsy revealed his cause of death as emphysema.
Whitman declared his poetry would have:
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Long lines that capture the rhythms of natural speech. Free verse. Vocabulary drawn from everyday speech. A base in reality, not morality.
Leaves of Grass
first version of his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, appeared in 1855. ? Emerson praised Whitman’s poetry as ―the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet to contribute.‖ ? Whitman used these words, written by Emerson in a letter to Whitman, in a later introduction to Leaves of Grass. Emerson was not amused.
Greenleaf Whittier threw his copy of the book into the fireplace. ? Another critic dismissed it as ―just a barbaric yawp.‖ ? Longfellow, Holmes, and Lowell were equally unimpressed. ? Even Thoreau was appalled by Whitman’s poetry, and he was certainly no conformist!
What’s his deal?
Why were so many writers shocked by Whitman? ? His lack of regular rhyme and meter (free verse) and nontraditional poetic style and subject matter shocked more traditional writers. ? He also wrote poetry with unabashedly sexual imagery and themes, some of them homoerotic. Examples include the Calamus poems and ―I Sing the Body Electric
O Captain! My Captain!
wrote poetry in praise of Abraham
―When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d‖ (an elegy written after Lincoln’s assassination). ―O Captain! My Captain!‖ memorializes Lincoln’s passing as the death of a great man and the death of the era he dominated. It was used to great effect in Dead Poets’ Society.
with Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman stands as one of two giants of American poetry in the nineteenth century. ? Whitman’s poetry would influence such Harlem Renaissance writers as Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. ? Whitman influenced Beat poets such as Allen Ginsburg.
writer Pablo Neruda claimed to have been influenced by Whitman. ? Whitman’s poetry was a model for French symbolists, such as Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud. ? Modernist poets such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and W.H. Auden were also influenced by Whitman.
Whitman created new poetic forms and subjects to fashion a distinctly American type of poetic expression. ? He rejected conventional themes, traditional literary references, allusions, and rhyme—all the accepted forms of poetry in the 19th century. ? He uses long lines to capture the rhythms of natural speech, free verse, and vocabulary drawn from everyday speech.