Walt Whitman

(1819 – 1892)

Walt WhitmanBiographical Sketch

Walter “Walt” Whitman (West Hills/Huntington, NY, USA, May 31, 1819 – Camden, NJ, USA, March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. His work was very controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described as obscene for its overt sexuality.

Born on Long Island, Whitman worked as a journalist, a teacher, a government clerk, and – in addition to publishing his poetry – was a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War. Early in his career, he also produced a temperance novel, Franklin Evans (1842). Whitman’s major work, Leaves of Grass, was first published in 1855 with his own money. The work was an attempt at reaching out to the common person with an American epic. He continued expanding and revising it until his death in 1892. After a stroke towards the end of his life, he moved to Camden, New Jersey, where his health further declined. He died at age 72 and his funeral became a public spectacle.

Whitman’s sexuality is often discussed alongside his poetry. Though biographers continue to debate his sexuality, he is usually described as either homosexual or bisexual in his feelings and attractions. However, there is disagreement among biographers as to whether Whitman had actual sexual experiences with men. Whitman was concerned with politics throughout his life. He supported the Wilmot Proviso and opposed the extension of slavery generally. His poetry presented an egalitarian view of the races, and at one point he called for the abolition of slavery, but later he saw the abolitionist movement as a threat to democracy.

Walt Whitman has been claimed as America’s first “poet of democracy”, a title meant to reflect his ability to write in a singularly American character. Modernist poet Ezra Pound called Whitman “America’s poet … He is America.” His vagabond lifestyle was adopted by the Beat movement and its leaders such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in the 1950s and 1960s as well as anti-war poets like Adrienne Rich and Gary Snyder. Lawrence Ferlinghetti numbered himself among Whitman’s “wild children”, and the title of his 1961 collection Starting from San Francisco is a deliberate reference to Whitman’s Starting from Paumanok. Whitman also influenced Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, with whom he corresponded until his death, and he was the model for the character of Dracula.

Read more about Walt Whitman on Wikipedia.

 

Bibliography

Poetry
  • Leaves of Grass
    – 9 editions between 1855 and 1891-1892.
  • Complete Poetry and Selected Prose (1972)
  • Walt Whitman: Poetry and Prose (1982)
  • Walt Whitman: The Complete Poems (1990)
  • The Works of Walt Whitman (1998)
  • Collected Poetry (2003)
Novels
  • Franklin Evans (1842)
Essays, Articles, Correspondence, Journals
  • Death in the School Room (a Fact) (1841)
  • Pictures (1853)
  • Appendix to Leaves of Grass (1856)
  • The Eighteenth Presidency! (1856)
  • Democratic Vistas (1871)
  • Two Rivulets (1876)
  • Memoranda During the War (1876)
  • Walt Whitman’s Actual American Position (1876)
  • Complete Poems and Prose (1888)
  • Note at Beginning, Note at End; Complete Poems and Prose (1888)
  • November Boughs (1888)
  • Specimen Days (1892)
  • Collect (1892)
  • Notes Left Over (1892)
  • Pieces in Early Youth (1892)
  • Good-Bye My Fancy (1892)
  • Memoranda (1892)
  • The Old Man Himself (1892)
  • Walt Whitman’s Last (1892)
  • Walt Whitman’s Diary in Canada (1904)
  • The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman (1918)
  • The Gathering of the Forces (1920)
  • Uncollected Poetry and Prose (1921)
  • Walt Whitman’s Workshop (1928)
  • Walt Whitman and the Civil War: A Collection of Original Articles and Manuscripts (1933)
  • Letters Written by Walt Whitman to His Mother, 1866 – 1872 (1936)
  • Whitman and Rolleston: A Correspondence (1952)
  • Walt Whitman’s Backward Glances: A Backward Glance O’Er Travel’d Roads, and Two Contributory Essays Hitherto Uncollected (1968)
  • Calamus: A Series of Letters Written During the Years, 1868 – 1880 (1972)
  • Walt Whitman of the New York Aurora (1974)
  • Correspondence (1977 – 1989)
  • The Wounded Dresser (1978)
  • Walt Whitman: Complete Poetry, Selected Prose, Letters (1978)
  • Daybooks and Notebooks (1978)
  • Selected Letters of Walt Whitman (1990)
  • The Uncollected Poetry & Prose (1990)
  • The Neglected Walt Whitman: Vital Texts (1993)
  • The Journalism: 1834 – 1846 (1998)
  • The Journalism: 1846 – 1848 (2003)
Online editions of Walt Whitman’s works:

 

A Favorite Quote

Song of Myself

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large – I contain multitudes.

Find more quotes by Walt Whitman on Wikiquote and Goodreads.

 

Links

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