Walt Whitman was a man of many talents. He was an essayist, a humanist, and a journalist. However, he’s most known for one thing: his poetry. Whitman’s incredible poems helped make him part of the transition between Transcendentalism and realism, earning him the title of the “father of the free verse.”
On May 31, 1819, Walter Whitman was born in the Town of Huntington, West Hills, Long Island. His parents, Louisa and Walter, were Quakers and of nine children, he was the second. The family moved to Brooklyn when Whitman was four and, owing to Walter’s bad investments, the family was often living in poverty. After finishing formal school at age 11, he took a job as an apprentice at a newspaper where he learned about typesetting. The summer after, he was employed at the Long-Island Star. Some of his earliest poetry was published around this time in New York Mirror and when he was 16, he joined his family in Brooklyn. Whitman taught at various schools for two years, until 1838.
Then, he formed his own paper, the Long Islander. After ten months, Whitman sold it to E.O. Crowell. After this, he worked a string of newspaper jobs and continued to write and publish his works. By 1850, he had begun work on Leaves of Grass, which was to become his most famous and influential work. By 1855, the first edition of 795 copies was printed. The book caught Ralph Waldo Emerson’s attention and his praise helped stir up a lot of interest. However, Whitman soon took work as a journalist because he needed money.
After the Civil War began, Whitman traveled to the South, fearing that his brother had been killed. Seeing the dead and wounded soldiers affected him greatly. Then, he headed for Washington in December of 1862 where he volunteered in army hospitals. He got a job as a grade clerk in the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior. In 1865, he released Drum-Taps.
In June, he was dismissed from his job, most likely due to Senator James Harlan’s moral objections to Leaves of Grass. Whitman’s friend William Douglas O’Connor transferred him and then published The Good Gray Poet, a pamphlet which defended Whitman and increased his popularity. Whitman also published the poem O Captain! My Captain!, which he dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. In 1868, Poems of Walt Whitman was published in England and heavily endorsed.
In 1873, Whitman suffered a stroke. He met Mary Oakes Davis, who moved in with him. He continued to edit Leaves of Grass and commissioned a granite mausoleum that was shaped like a house so that he could be buried there. He died on March 26, 1892. By this time, his lungs were at 1/8 their normal capacity and he had an abscess on his chest the size of an egg that had completely degenerated one of his ribs.
Today, Whitman’s writings have been embraced all over the world. His works influenced countless other poets and immortalized a time period in which the country was undergoing many changes.
For additional information and texts of his works, refer to the following links:
• The Walt Whitman Archive
• Whitman Biography and Work Examples
• Walt Whitman Notebooks
• The Whitman Connection
• Walt Whitman's Poems
• Whitman's Life
• A Noiseless Patient Spider
• Whitman Project
• Whitman and Leaves of Grass
• Walt Whitman Birthplace
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