Walt Whitman Essay

1492 words - 6 pages

Walt Whitman was one of America’s most inspiring poets. Born a poetic genius in the nineteenth century, Whitman influenced the twentieth century with his idealistic poetry. He envisioned democracy as a way of life and looked to America for inspiration. Walt Whitman’s background influenced his writing in many ways and produced a new poetic style which changed the face of American Literature.
Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, in West Hills, New York, to Walter Whitman, a carpenter, and Louisa Van Velsor. He was the second oldest of nine children (Price and Folsom online). At age four, Whitman and his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he spent a difficult childhood because of ...view middle of the document...

Later, he edited and wrote editorials for a number of newspapers in New York, and then became chief editor of the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle” (Price and Folsom online). In 1848, he left the “Eagle” to become the editor of the “New Orleans Crescent” (Walt online). It was on his travels south that Whitman was first introduced to diverse people, cultures, and lifestyles; and it was in New Orleans that Whitman first experienced the harshness and brutality of slavery. After Whitman’s stint in New Orleans, he returned to New York and founded an anti-slavery newspaper he called “Brooklyn Freeman” (Walt online). He continued to develop and refine his unique style of poetry; and in 1855, Whitman published the first edition of his book “Leaves of Grass,” which consisted of twelve poems. Shortly thereafter, he published a second edition containing thirty-three poems. His poetry addressed significant issues of the day that “he hoped would be read by masses of average Americans and would transform their way of thinking” (Price and Folsom online). At the time of publication, the book was widely ignored. Only one author seemed to appreciate Whitman’s work, and that was Ralph Waldo Emerson. He wrote Whitman a congratulatory letter and wished him a great career. Whitman included Emerson’s letter in his second edition to generate interest in his book. He published several more editions of the “Leaves of Grass” throughout his lifetime, each one containing more poems (Schramm online). In 1865, Whitman’s poetry took a back seat to the Civil War. After learning that one of his brothers was injured in the Civil War, Whitman moved to Washington D.C. and volunteered as a nurse in army hospitals until the end of the war. Whitman only wrote articles for the New York Times during this period of time. After the Civil War, he began writing poetry again. He wrote and published wartime poems, poems about democracy, and poems about the assassination of President Lincoln. During the Civil War, Whitman contracted tuberculosis and was plagued with ill health for the rest of his life. Whitman never married and lived alone most
of his life (Price and Folsom online). In 1873, Whitman suffered several strokes. He moved to New Jersey where he continued to write poems, essays, and occasionally give lectures (Whitman online). In 1891, Whitman prepared the infamous “Deathbed” edition of the “Leaves of Grass,” which contained more than two hundred and ninety-three poems printed on three hundred and eighty-two pages (Schramm online). It included some old-age poems and an essay in which Whitman attempts to justify his life and work. In 1892, at the age of seventy-two, Walt Whitman died of pneumonia.
Whitman’s writing was influenced by the events and issues that were significant during his lifetime, his interests, and his life experiences. In the early nineteenth century, a significant concern was whether the United States would survive as a country. To help ease those doubts and to...

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