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FURTHER READING
Related Prose
"It Looks Quite Curious": Oppen's Whitman
by Peter O'Leary
Dead Poets Society
An Anatomy of the Long Poem
by Rachel Zucker
Back Down to Earth: On Walt Whitman’s Preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass
by Richard Tayson
Elegy and Eros: Configuring Grief
by David Baker
Groundbreaking Book: Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855)
Manuscript Study: Walt Whitman
On "A child said, What is the grass?"
by Mark Doty
On Whitman: Depths
by C. K. Williams
On Whitman: The Music
by C. K. Williams
Poetry Landmark: The Brooklyn Bridge in New York City
Poetry Landmark: The Walt Whitman House in Camden, NJ
Through me Many Long Dumb Voices: The Poet-Lawyer
by Martín Espada
Walking Tour: Walt Whitman's Printing House Square in New York City
by Elizabeth Kray
Walking Tour: Walt Whitman's SoHo Historic District in New York City
by Elizabeth Kray
What I Feel About Walt Whitman
by Ezra Pound
Easy Poet Costume Ideas
A Brief Guide to Romanticism
Romantic Poets
Edgar Allan Poe
John Keats
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
William Blake
William Wordsworth
Related Pages
Poets.org Guide to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass
A Close Reading of "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"
Suggested Reading
Walt Whitman Discussion Questions
External Links
Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive
Mark Doty on Whitman's Stanzas
"Form, Eros and the Unspeakable: Whitmans Stanzas," an essay on Walt Whitman's poetry from The Virginia Quarterly Review, 2005.
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Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Born on May 31, 1819, Walt Whitman was the second son of Walter Whitman, a housebuilder, and Louisa Van Velsor. The family, which consisted of nine children, lived in Brooklyn and Long Island in the 1820s and 1830s.

At the age of twelve, Whitman began to learn the printer's trade, and fell in love with the written word. Largely self-taught, he read voraciously, becoming acquainted with the works of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and the Bible.

Whitman worked as a printer in New York City until a devastating fire in the printing district demolished the industry. In 1836, at the age of 17, he began his career as teacher in the one-room school houses of Long Island. He continued to teach until 1841, when he turned to journalism as a full-time career.

He founded a weekly newspaper, Long-Islander, and later edited a number of Brooklyn and New York papers. In 1848, Whitman left the Brooklyn Daily Eagle to become editor of the New Orleans Crescent. It was in New Orleans that he experienced at first hand the viciousness of slavery in the slave markets of that city. On his return to Brooklyn in the fall of 1848, he founded a "free soil" newspaper, the Brooklyn Freeman, and continued to develop the unique style of poetry that later so astonished Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In 1855, Whitman took out a copyright on the first edition of Leaves of Grass (self-published), which consisted of twelve untitled poems and a preface. He published the volume himself, and sent a copy to Emerson in July of 1855. Whitman released a second edition of the book in 1856, containing thirty-three poems, a letter from Emerson praising the first edition, and a long open letter by Whitman in response. During his subsequent career, Whitman continued to refine the volume, publishing several more editions of the book. Noted Whitman scholar, M. Jimmie Killingsworth writes that "the 'merge,' as Whitman conceived it, is the tendency of the individual self to overcome moral, psychological, and political boundaries. Thematically and poetically, the notion dominates the three major poems of 1855: 'I Sing the Body Electric,' 'The Sleepers,' and 'Song of Myself,' all of which were 'merged' in the first edition under the single title Leaves of Grass but were demarcated by clear breaks in the text and the repetition of the title."

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman vowed to live a "purged" and "cleansed" life. He wrote freelance journalism and visited the wounded at New York-area hospitals. He then traveled to Washington, D.C. in December 1862 to care for his brother who had been wounded in the war.

Overcome by the suffering of the many wounded in Washington, Whitman decided to stay and work in the hospitals and stayed in the city for eleven years. He took a job as a clerk for the Department of the Interior, which ended when the Secretary of the Interior, James Harlan, discovered that Whitman was the author of Leaves of Grass, which Harlan found offensive. Harlan fired the poet.

Whitman struggled to support himself through most of his life. In Washington, he lived on a clerk's salary and modest royalties, and spent any excess money, including gifts from friends, to buy supplies for the patients he nursed. He had also been sending money to his widowed mother and an invalid brother. From time to time writers both in the states and in England sent him "purses" of money so that he could get by.

In the early 1870s, Whitman settled in Camden, NJ, where he had come to visit his dying mother at his brother's house. However, after suffering a stroke, Whitman found it impossible to return to Washington. He stayed with his brother until the 1882 publication of Leaves of Grass (James R. Osgood) gave Whitman enough money to buy a home in Camden.

In the simple two-story clapboard house, Whitman spent his declining years working on additions and revisions to a new edition of the book and preparing his final volume of poems and prose, Good-Bye, My Fancy (David McKay, 1891). After his death on March 26, 1892, Whitman was buried in a tomb he designed and had built on a lot in Harleigh Cemetery.

Along with Emily Dickinson, he is considered one of America's most important poets.




A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Leaves of Grass (David McKay, 1891)
Good-Bye, My Fancy (David McKay, 1891)
Leaves of Grass (James R. Osgood, 1881)
Passage to India (J.S. Redfield, 1870)
Leaves of Grass (J.S. Redfield, 1870)
Leaves of Grass (William E. Chapin, 1867)
Drum Taps (William E. Chapin, 1865)
Sequel to Drum Taps (William E. Chapin, 1865)
Leaves of Grass (Thayer & Eldridge, 1860)
Leaves of Grass (Fowler & Wells, 1856)
Leaves of Grass (self-published, 1855)

Prose

Complete Prose Works (David McKay, 1892)
November Boughs (David McKay, 1888)
Memoranda During the War (self-published, 1875)
Democratic Vistas (David McKay, 1871)
Franklin Evans; or, The Inebriate (New World, 1842)



Multimedia

From the Image Archive


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Poems by
Walt Whitman

A child said, What is the grass?
A Clear Midnight
A Noiseless Patient Spider
A Woman Waits for Me
America
Among the Multitude
As I Walk These Broad Majestic Days
Calamus [In Paths Untrodden]
Come Up From the Fields Father
Come, said my Soul
Continuities
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
Delicate Cluster
Election Day, November, 1884
Excelsior
I Hear America Singing
I Sing the Body Electric
Mannahatta
Miracles
O Captain! My Captain!
O Me! O Life!
On the Beach at Night Alone
Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd
Passage to India
So Long
Sometimes with One I Love
Song of Myself, I, II, VI & LII
Song of Myself, III
Song of Myself, X
Song of Myself, XI
Spirit that Form'd this Scene
Spontaneous Me
The Indications [excerpt]
The Sleepers
The Untold Want
The Wound-Dresser
This Compost
Thoughts
To a Locomotive in Winter
To Think of Time
To You
Unfolded Out of the Folds
Washington's Monument, February, 1885
When I Heard at the Close of Day
When I Heard the Learned Astronomer
When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd
Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand
World Below the Brine

Prose by
Walt Whitman

Specimen Days [The Inauguration]
A Backward Glance
Letter to Peter Doyle

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