Walt Whitman Biography | Hampsong Foundation

Walt whitman history

walt whitman in 1881photo courtesy of the library of congress

walt whitman (walter whitman), 1819-1892, American poet, b. western hills, n.y. Considered by many to be the greatest of all American poets, Whitman celebrated the freedom and dignity of the individual and sang the praises of democracy and the brotherhood of man. Unconventional in both content and technique, His Blades of Grass is probably the most influential volume of poems in the history of American literature.

early life

Whitman left school in 1830, worked as a printer and then as a typesetter. in 1838-39 he taught at a school on long island and edited the long island newspaper. By 1841 he had become a full-time journalist, successively editing several articles and writing prose and verse for New York and Brooklyn magazines. His active interest in politics during this period led him to become editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a Democratic Party newspaper; however, he lost this job due to his vehement advocacy of abolition and the “free land” movement. After a brief trip to New Orleans in 1848, Whitman returned to Brooklyn, continued as a journalist, and later worked as a carpenter.

blades of grass

In 1855, Whitman self-published a volume of 12 poems, Leaves of Grass, which he had probably begun work on as early as 1847. Preceded by a statement of his theories of poetry, the volume included the well-known poem later. like “I sing to myself”, in which the author proclaims himself a symbolic representative of the common people. although the book was a commercial failure, critical reviewers recognized the emergence of a bold new voice in poetry. two larger editions appeared in 1856 and 1860, and had equally little public success. Leaves of Grass was criticized for Whitman’s exaltation of the body and sexual love and also for its innovation in verse form, that is, the use of free verse in long rhythmic lines with a natural, “organic” structure. Emerson was one of the few intellectuals who praised Whitman’s work and wrote him a famous congratulatory letter. Whitman went on to enlarge and revise further editions of Herb Leaves; the last edition prepared under his supervision appeared in 1892.

later life and works

From 1862 to 1865, Whitman worked as a volunteer nurse in a Washington hospital. His Civil War poetry, Drum-Taps (1865), republished with a sequel to Drum-Taps (1865-66), included his two poems about Abraham Lincoln, “When the lilacs last bloomed in the gate yard. “, considered one of the best elegies in the English language and the much-recited “o capitán! My Captain!” For a time, Whitman served as a clerk in the Department of the Interior, but was discharged because Leaves of Grass was considered an immoral book. In 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic fit and later lived in a semi-disabled state. His prose collection, Democratic Views, had appeared in 1871, and his last long poem, “Passage to India,” was published in the 1871 edition of Leaves of Grass. From 1884 until his death he lived in Camden, N.J., where he continued to write and revise his earlier work, his last book, November Branches, appeared in 1888.


Whitman was a complex person. he saw himself as the tough, ready-to-wear, thoroughbred spokesman for a young democracy, and he cultivated a bearded, shaggy appearance. In fact, Whitman’s early biographers, John Burroughs and R. subway. Bucke were so affected by the robust “i” in Whitman’s poems and by the poet himself that they described him as a sensual and troublemaker, a great lover of women and the father of several illegitimate children. most of this was false. In reality, Whitman was a quiet, gentle and circumspect man, robust in youth but infirm in middle age, who had no children and is generally acknowledged to be homosexual. Whitman had an incalculable effect on later poets, inspiring them to experiment with both prosody and theme.


see t. I Brasher, ed., Early Poems and Fiction (1963) and H. w. blodgett and s. Bradley, ed., Blades of Grass (1965); his published prose, ed. by f. stovall (2 vol., 1963-64); his uncollected prose, ed. bye. F. Grier et al. (6 vol., 1984); the diaries and notebooks of him, ed. by w. white (3 vol., 1978); collected poetry and prose (1982); his correspondence, ed. bye. h. miller (6 vol., 1961-77); gram. w. Allen, Walt Whitman’s New Handbook (1986); biographies of g. w. Allen (1955, revised ed. 1969), J. Kaplan (1986) and J. love (1999); p. Zweig, Walt Whitman: The Making of a Poet (1984); d. s. reynolds, the america of walt whitman (1995)

reference: the encyclopedia of columbia, sixth edition 2001

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