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Walt Whitman Essay

Walt Whitman Essay

Example #1

Walt Whitman’s diverse and self-conscious writing style contains many poetic devices that distinguish him from the great American writers. One such device common to Whitman’s poetry is the use of cataloging. Through cataloging, Whitman is able to enter into the text multiple ideas and situations, alluding to topics that are central to his work.

Though these seemingly unrelated events all contain diverse themes, evoking various thoughts, it is through cataloging that they successfully reveal the wisdom of the man and his impressions. In ‘Song of Myself’, Whitman’s frequent use of the catalog promotes strong meaning to the poem, effectively displaying to the reader Whitman’s great insight into the consciousness of human thought and ultimate realism which characterized his writings.

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‘Song of Myself’ contains many passages that are easily relatable to the reader, creating a sense of familiarity which makes Whitman a truly realistic writer. This realism is what allowed the poem to acquire universal acceptance, as well as great praise. Whitman takes the reader through his world, encountering life’s events through the eyes of the poet, these encounters ultimately embodying as well as comprising his personal identity.

However, the true excellence of Whitman’s writings lies in the realization that through Whitman’s effective use of the catalog, the reader is able to explore and recognize his own identity as well. In section 15 of the poem, Whitman catalogs together many random thoughts, which evoke great imagery for the reader, the duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches, the deacons are ordained with crossed hands at the altar, the spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel, the farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a first-day loafe and looks at the oats and rye.

Upon first reading, taken literally, this passage seems sporadic and confusing, but upon introspection, one will realize that Whitman is using cataloging effectively to appeal to a mass audience. The duck-shooter, the deacons, the spinning-girl, and the farmer are all completely unique, creating a diverse cast, comparable to the audience, as well as society in general.

This allows everyone to seek meaning and relevance for themselves through the aid of a single work. The poem assumes that the emotions suggested by cataloging such events and characters will partially reflect those of past and future feelings in the reader’s imagination. Thus, ‘Song of Myself’ is not actually a poem about a duck-shooter, or farmer, but rather a poem about life and its ultimate search for meaning.

Through cataloging, Whitman is able to touch on a broad range of topics that he feels will capture realistically capture one’s own life experiences. Catalogs of seemingly unrelated events makes for a diverse poem, touching on many aspects of everyday life and ultimately invoking various emotions and relationships in the reader. An important theme in the poem is that of memories.

The idea of memories is alluded to through the ‘Song of Myself’, like the song, which is Whitman’s life, is remembered and sung throughout the poem. Songs belong in the memory, as do the various, unrelated events which take place throughout one’s lifetime. Whitman’s ’song’ creates a journey into one’s own imagination which takes us through his world. As the reader travels through Whitman’s experiences, we begin to piece together his own identity, which has no doubt been shaped by such events.

A line such as “The mate stands braced in the whale-boat, lance and harpoon are ready”, obviously can have no connection to “The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirmed case”. As neither passage in this catalog are either elaborated upon or eluded to anywhere else in the poem, their significance is far from obvious. In section 17, Whitman writes, “If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing”.

Perhaps the riddle is the poem itself and the untying of it comes through an understanding of its meaning. If this is true then such untying must begin in the poem’s catalogs, only then will we be able to truly appreciate Whitman’s identity through his work.

Cataloging is used in ‘Song of Myself’ in order to allow the reader to enter and encounter events in his life. Catalogs are created in his mind consisting of numerous, random events. Every entry in a catalog is written in the present tense, giving it an ecstatic feeling, as if everything is happening at once; the reader is immersed in Whitman’s journey of self-experience.

Everything seems to be going through the author’s mind at once. This is comparable to almost everyone’s life. We all go through life encountering numerous events, these experiences shaping each individual’s identity. The catalogs are constantly bombarding the reader, speaking with a direct bluntness which is always in the immediate context.

The arrangement of numerous events forms the poem’s catalogs, which are an abstract yet highly effective form of juxtaposition. The cataloging of sections of the poem allows insight into Whitman’s thoughts, dealing with diverse topics such as social concern, love, mortality, politics, social class, technology as well as countless others.

‘Song of Myself’ is not only a poem about Walt Whitman, but instead, it is about anyone who can relate or find meaning in his words. Beginning with the opening line, the poem is an invitation from Whitman for the reader to enter into his world. Whitman’s use of cataloging allows for interesting and effective organization of his thoughts which stimulates thought on the part of the reader, therefore providing a clearer understanding of his own identity.

The use of cataloging makes this work seem almost accidental as if Whitman is simply observing the people, places, and events that surround his everyday life. Nevertheless, upon closer examination, we discover that his words are in fact carefully calculated.

 

Example #2

Some years ago, when a few copies of a volume called Leaves of Grass found their way into this country from America, the general verdict of those who had an opportunity of examining the book was that much of it was indescribably filthy, most of it mere incoherent rhapsody, none of it what could be termed poetry in any sense of the word, and that, unless at the hands of some enterprising Holywell Street publisher, it had no chance of the honor of an English reprint.

Besides, it would be idle to deny that Walt Whitman has many attractions for the minds of a certain class. He is loud, swaggering, and self-assertive, and so gets credit for strength with those who worship nothing that is not strong. He is utterly lawless, and in consequence, passes for being a great original genius. His produce is unlike anything else that has ever appeared in literature, and that is enough for those who are always on the look-out for novelty.

He is rich in all those qualities of haziness, incoherence, and obscurity which seem to be the first that some readers nowadays look for in poetry. But, above all, he runs amuck with conventionalities and decencies of every sort, which naturally endears him to those silly people who take a childish delight in seeing the respectabilities of the world pulled by the nose, and what they consider its stupid prejudices shocked. Spoken by Mr. Rosetti, representing British Publisher of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

We can see no reason for considering Walt Whitman’s power. Strong he maybe, but it is only in the sense in which onion is strong. His noise, bluster, and arrogance are no more indications of true strength than the swagger of the professional athlete at a country fair, who struts up and down the stage in salmon-colored tights, and passes for a Hercules with the crowd from the way in which he feels his muscles in public. That he is American in one sense we must admit.

He is something that no other country could have produced. He is American as certain forms of rowdyism and vulgarity, excrescences on American institutions, are American. But that he is American in the sense of being representative of American taste, intellect, or cultivation, we should be very sorry indeed to believe. Now he certainly is, but it is only in his audacity, and in the abnormal structure of his poetry; there is not a new thought in his writings from beginning to end.

 

Example #3

Throughout society, publishers can make or break a writer s career. When a writer must publish his own work many times his work becomes shelved in his own home for the dinner guests to see. In Some cases like this one, you have a writer who publishes his own work and later becomes one of America s most honored poets, and his work hailed as a masterpiece of American literature.

Walt Whitman pioneered a vision of humanity based on egalitarian democratic ideals and unveiled an ambitious poetic voice designed to serve as the embodiment of America, through Leaves of Grass. In his most highly regarded poem “Song of Myself” Whitman states “You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the specters in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self”.

This is everlasting and reflects his personal outlooks. Walt Whitman has a lot to contribute to his writings. This information is focused on his personal history of his childhood, adulthood, and the text behind one of his many themes, friendship. As the second of nine children, Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island on May 31, 1819.

He grew up in Brooklyn and went to public schools there for six years. By the age of eleven Whitman was done with formal education and he began his life after school as a laborer, working first as an office boy for a law office. Here his self-education began absorbing what he could at the library. In 1831 Whitman became an apprentice on the Long Island Patriot, a liberal, working-class newspaper, where he learned the printing trade and was first exposed to the excitement of putting words into print, observing how thought and event could be quickly transformed into language and immediately communicated to thousands of readers.

He wrote articles on politics and the arts. He attended debates, the theater, concerts, lectures, political meetings and often rode on stagecoaches and ferries just to talk with people. During his stint at the Patriot, Whitman retains a typesetter s concern for how his words look on a page, what typeface they were dressed in, what effects various spatial arrangements had, and he would always retain his stubborn independence, never marrying and living alone for most of his life.

Meanwhile in the summer of 1833 after his family had resettled on a farm they had another son, Thomas Jefferson. Though the 14 year age difference, Whitman would grow very close with Thomas later when they travel together to New Orleans in 1848. It had seemed that Whitman s calling was going to be in the printing business, but severe fires wiped out the major printing and business centers of the city, and, in the midst of a gloomy financial climate, Whitman retreated home to his family in Long Island.

Whitman began his new career as a schoolteacher. These may have been Whitman s unhappiest years, traveling to some ten towns to teach and rooming with his students. He received very little pay to teach some very unenlightened people.

The little evidence of his teaching is (mostly from short recollections by a few former students) suggests that Whitman employed what were then progressive techniques encouraging students to think aloud rather than simply recite, refusing to punish by paddling, involving his students in educational games, and joining his students in baseball and card games. He did not hesitate to use his own poems which he was by this time writing with some frequency, though they were rhymed, conventional verses that indicated nothing of the innovative poetry to come as texts in his classroom.

Succeeding the teaching Whitman spent a short time as a fiction writer between the years of 1840 to 1845, placing his stories in magazines. During this time Whitman was writing for an array of newspapers on topics ranging from how the police rounded up prostitutes denouncing the bishop s support of parochial schools ( Conarroe; Poetry for).

Now at the age of thirty-five Whitman had published his first edition of Leaves of Grass which consisted of twelve untitled poems and no indication of its author aside from the copyright notice, in which the holders is identified as “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos,” a phrase echoed I one of the poems. Within a few months of producing his first edition of Leaves, Whitman was already hard at work on the second edition.

While in the first, he had given his long lines room to stretch across the page by printing the book on large paper, in the second edition he sacrificed the spacious pages and produced what he later called his “chunky fat book,” his earliest attempt to create a pocket-size edition that would offer the reader what Whitman thought of as the “ideal pleasure” “to put a book in your pocket and off to the seashore or the forest.”

On the cover of this edition, published and distributed by Fowler and Wells (though the firm carefully distanced themselves from the book by proclaiming that “the author is still his own publisher”), Whitman emblazoned one of the first “blurbs” in American publishing history: without asking Emerson s permission, he printed in gold on the spine of the book the opening words of Emerson s letter to him: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” followed by Emerson s name.

And, to generate publicity for the volume, he appended to the volume a group of reviews of the first edition including three he wrote himself along with a few negative reviews and called the gathering Leaves-Droppings. Whitman was a pioneer of the “any publicity is better than no publicity” strategy. At the back of the book, he printed Emerson s entire letter (again, without permission) and wrote a long public letter back a kind of apology for his poetry addressing it to “Master.”

Although he would later downplay the influence of Emerson on his work, at this time, he later recalled, he had “Emerson-on-the-brain” ( American; Conarroe; Kaplan). Whitman had gone on to release Leaves of Grass a numerous amount of times, some good and some very criticized. An American poet, essayist, novelist, short story writer, journalist, and editor was a journeyman of knowledge, it seemed. His knowledge quest seemed to be on the path to find the simple themes of life.

One theme that Whitman wrote about was friendship in the section of Leaves of Grass called Calamus. This vision was of a “continent indissoluble” with “inseparable cities” all joined by “the life-long love of comrades.” The poem “We Two Boys are Together Clinging” is a good example of his poems on friendship. “We two boys together clinging, One the other never leaving, Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making, Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,

Arms d and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving”( Whitman 121). This is a power excerpt from Whitman s poem about close ties between two people and the struggle of surging through the war. It talks as both men don t leave each other’s side as friends stick together and as soldiers do during the war. Another poem that expresses friendship would be “When I Peruse The Conquer d Fame”.

“But when I hear of the brotherhood of lovers, how it was with them, How together through life, through dangers, odium unchanging, long and long, Through youth and through middle and old age, how unflattering, how affectionate and faithful they were” (120). This quotation of his poem shows how two people go through life together through many circumstances and through many time periods and at the end they can still show their affection to each other. Whitman wanted to unify and shatter conflicts so that mankind would bind a nation and build democracy through the themes of life.

Through Walt Whitman’s eyes, we have seen nature, friendship, death, and defeat. All his writings can only be interpreted as the way one sees the writings themselves. The poet died on March 26, 1892. The cause of death was miliary tuberculosis, with other contributing factors. Reader s remember Whitman for not what he wrote but what he taught through his writings. “O, Captain! My Captain!” rise up and hear the bells(Whitman 308), for they are playing for you and you will be remembered.

 

Example #4

In most of his poetry, Walt Whitman emphasizes the significance of the individual and the importance of humankind. Whitman wrote during the 19th Century. Aiding the wounded in the Civil War influenced his writings. Walt Whitman wrote one book, Leaves of Grass, which took him a lifetime to write. His masterpiece is what made him famous.

Whitman’s poetry is very forthright and original ranging from anything imaginable. His style of writing was not usual organized word structure, but open-ended units and very free-flowing. In his poetry he made long lists cataloging everything. His style was based on cadence the long easy sweep of sound that echoes the Bible and the speeches of orators and preachers.

This cadence is the reason for Walt Whitman’s free verse: poetry without rhyme or meter. Being constantly curious about who he was, Whitman often wrote about individuality.”I Hear America Singing,” is a famous poem that appears in Whitman’s book “Leaves of Grass.” The theme in this poem is the individuality in America’s people. “I hear America singing the varied carols I hear, . . . “.

He expresses this through the occupations of men and women of America. Walt Whitman describes the pride men and women have in their work. He states, “Each singing what belongs to him or her and none else, . . . “. He wants to show the different individual feelings and actions of the Americans through their occupations.

Walt Whitman witnessed painful, gruesome, and heartbreaking sites aiding the wounded during the Civil War. In his poem “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim,” Whitman describes a horrible sight he once saw: “Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there untended lying, . . . “. He can not understand why all this fighting and killing is taking place.

 

Example #5

The concept of individualism or individuality has been the soul of Walt Whitman and Allama Iqbal’s poetry. Both employed it as a tool to awaken the sense of democracy and patriotism in newly freed Americans and still-in-seek of freedom Muslims.

Bellah et al (1968) mark Whitman as a representative of ‘Expressive individualism’. Being an expressive individualist, Whitman refutes all the principles of utilitarian individualism and emphasized on the freedom to express one’s true self and desire against all odds of the society.

He regards individualism as a torch that saves a man from dwelling in a dark miserable hovel where he is devoid of truth; by leading him towards enlightenment. For Whitman, the individual and the state are not separate entities just like T.S Eliot who says, “A man is not himself unless he is a member, and he cannot be a member unless he is also something alone.”

That is the reason why Whitman regards individualism as a means of achieving democracy. In Whitman’s world, it is the individual that only matters. He believes that “an individual is as superb as a nation when he has the qualities which make a superb nation”.

Through his poetry, he tried to bond individuals with love and brotherhood so that they could be saved from “atomistic solitude” (Pires, 2001). Whitman treats ‘Man’ as the soul of his works. That is why; his poetry tends to resolve “the inherent conflict between the individual and the universe…at the level of the transpersonal self, where the individual being himself is also the self of all”.

According to Whitman, an individual in his spirit is “one with the cosmic whole”. In addition to this, he regards man as the “spiritual center of the universe” and only through the self-realization one can be able to explore “nature, history, and ultimately, the cosmos itself;” leading to the amalgam of individual soul and Oversoul.

On the other hand, Allama Iqbal uses the term khadi to connote the terms ego, self, or individuality. Iqbal’s concept stresses the relationship between God and man as the ‘chosen of God’. He believes this designation of a co-worker would be only granted to the man who will reach the status of God’s vicegerent and for this, one has to develop and nurture his ego.

 

Example #6

(A critic of Walt Whitman’s Pedagogy) Famous writer, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts”. He wrote this in 1943 in The Abolition of Man, this work depicts Lewis’s objections and defense of the pedagogy of the time.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Pedagogy as “the art, science, or profession of teaching”(Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In his quote, Lewis makes the point that teachers aren’t meant to destroy the thoughts and processes a student already has, but are to help the student’s mind grow. Instead of Nowadays, it’s common for instructors to demolish original thoughts of students to install the uniform constructs instituted by the instructor.

It’s astonishing this happens when extraordinary thinkers have fought against it for over a hundred years. Walt Whitman was one of these great writers of the 19th century. Walt Whitman(1819-1892) presents his radical pedagogy in his poems in Leaves of Grass. When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer(Astronomer) Whitman expresses that individuals learn more by experiencing the topics, than listening to a lecture.

The poem depicts the narrator listening to the lecture of an astronomer and learning nothing. At the beginning of Astronomer, Whitman lists visual aids and evidence showing the reliability of the facts in the lecture.

 

Example #7

Walt Whitman was an American poet born on May 31 1819 to Walter Whitman and Louisa Van Velsor in Long Island. He had a rough childhood due to economic hardships and finished his formal education at eleven years. He found a job after school to supplement his family’s income as an office boy. Later he got a job as an apprentice for a printing firm and began his interest in writing.

However, he began to teach after a fire destroyed the printing district in New York in 1836 at seventeen years. He also started his own newspaper. His work raised a lot of controversies when he wrote it but he often considered as the “father of free verse”.

The aim of writing was to reach the common person whom he felt had been ignored by the literature of his time. Whitman was interested in politics and used his works to address political and democracy issues in society.

His major work was his collection of poems called titled Leaves of Grass in 1855. The collection attracted negative criticism from many critics as they called the work obscene due to its sexual themes, which they found offensive. Consequently, he was sacked from his job at Brooklyn Eagle.

However, one man by the name of Ralph Waldo Emerson gave Whitman’s poetry collection approval and praised the work to his friends. The approval raised interest in the book. Emerson gave the book his approval when he wrote Whitman a letter praising the book.

Thus, Emerson contributed greatly to Whitman’s career as the letter written by Emerson was printed in the subsequent edition and helped to mitigate the negative criticism his first edition had attracted and made a positive statement about Whitman’s collection of poems.

The environment also influenced Whitman’s work. His milieu was one of mortality as he had encountered death when his infant sister when he was six years old. He also lost a member of his family and other relatives. In addition, while working as a printer he encountered stories about people that impacted his poetry, for instance, the poem Song of Myself, in which he shows violent ends.

Whitman encountered wounded and dying soldiers as he served as a volunteer nurse and thus had direct contact with the blood bath as shown in the poem A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest in which he expressed his disdain for the war.

Whitman faced challenges throughout his life such as loss of employment and at times he just got my life through the help of his friends who would send him money from England and America. However, that did not deter him as he sought to help those in need. He was very interested in the lives of the people and the civil war changed him as he started taking care often people wounded in the war.

He volunteered as a nurse as army hospitals and used his money and donations from friends to buy supplies for the wounded. He also took care of his mother and brother and thus did not neglect his family.

Finally, Whitman passed on on March 26, 1892, from pneumonia. He left a lasting legacy because his works reflected American society. He highlighted the plight of the oppressed such as the slaves thus his works championed democracy in the society to give all people a fair chance. Thus, one cannot deny the fact that Whitman is one of the most influential American poets, and the interest in his works today is proof.

 

Example #8

While reading Walt Whitman’s compilation of poetry found in the comprehensive collection Leaves of Grass, it is nearly impossible to ignore the multitude of connections made to Buddhist teachings. His poetry mimics the main principles of Buddhism to the point that some authors have gone as far as to call him the American Buddha.

In particular, Whitman subtly makes a connection between two of the most essential dualistic principles in Buddhism, not one not two, and death without dying. In fact, rather than merely demonstrating these teachings, Whitman, through his powerful language, portrays the latter as a continuation of the former in a way that comes irresistibly close to describing the mystery surrounding Buddhist dualism.

In fact, Whitman portrays death without dying as a continuation of not one, not two; through his powerful language, his descriptions are irresistibly close to the mystery that surrounds Buddhist dualism rather than merely demonstrate the teachings.

From the very first stanza of the collection titled Songs of Myself, Whitman makes it clear that he sees humanity’s existence in a dualistic sense. The statement, “I celebrate myself and sing myself” is riddled with personal pride and demonstrates the “not one” aspect of Buddhist dualism. Whitman boldly declares that he is unique, special, and worthy of song and praise.

 

Example #9

In the poem “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman he speaks of a spider that faces problems and has no one to help it through them. Walt Whitman uses elements such as imagery and symbolism. He uses imagery to allow the reader to understand the surroundings, feelings, actions of both the speaker and spider.

Symbolism is used to describe the actions of the spider while connecting them to human situations and how they are dealt with. Walt Whitman wants to convey to the reader that the problems that one faces will be defeated with effort and perseverance.

In the first stanza, Walt Whitman uses imagery to show the setting of the poem. He uses “noiseless” in the beginning to describe the spider and how it does not react to the situation like most people do when something suddenly comes up. In the second and third lines of the first stanza, Whitman uses “stood isolated/…vacant vast surroundings” to show that the spider is analyzing the problem before doing anything that it may regret.

He also uses imagery to show how the spider then starts to build a solution for this. This relates to human nature because when people are faced with a problem most of the time people tackle it, just like how in the fourth line Whitman claimed the spider did “filament, filament, filament” taking its time.

Walt Whitman uses symbolism to compare the struggles of the spider to human life and how it is dealt with. The first stanza starts off with “A noiseless patient spider” Whitman seems to describe a person that could have been faced with a problem and is analyzing it. In the last two lines, Whitman talks about how “It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,” this symbolizes the effort of the spider and how it is taking it slow and being cautious. Most humans in intense situations will take their time and be aware of what they are doing in order to overcome the problem.

Whitman uses imagery once again in the second stanza to paint a picture of having the problem consume the spider-like it does in life if it is given to much negative attention. In the second line of the stanza, he states that the spider is “ measureless oceans of space” meaning there is no way that the problem could be tackled yet because there is no solution yet.

Whitman then ends by saying “Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere,” meaning the end of the problem. Once the situation is back to normal and humans have their solution to the problems.

Symbolism is in this stanza too when Walt Whitman uses “Surrounded, detached” in the second line to show that the spider is so consumed in this bump in the road that now it is all it could think about. Sometimes people can be so focused on something that it just takes away time and energy that could be used for something that makes them happier.

In the fourth line Walt uses “till the ductile anchor hold,” and it means that the spider would have to wait until it has the perfect plan to execute anything. Just like anybody would have to wait for the perfect moment in which they would be able to make things right again.

The imagery and symbolism in this poem relate to real human life because when effort and perseverance are put to use the problem is not as big. The imagery showed how the problem affected the spider and its socialness. The symbolism of the poem relates to the reality of life and its complications and “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman is a great representation of life and its randomness.

 

Example #10 – interesting ideas

Walt Whitman’s seemingly inconsistent and self-contradictory attitudes toward slavery have long been a source of critical debate. On one hand, Whitman’s opposition to slavery is demonstrated in Leaves of Grass by the way in which he consistently includes African Americans in his vision of an ideal, multiracial republic and portrays them as beautiful, dignified, and intelligent.

On the other hand, various Whitman texts show that he had little tolerance for abolitionism, that he thought blacks were inferior to whites, and that his opposition to the extension of slavery had little, if anything, to do with sympathy for slaves.


In my opinion, the poet which best exemplifies modernism is Walt Whitman. Walt Whitman’s stylistic preference is not exactly mine, but it is definitely a good example of “modern poetry.” He has broken down many walls of traditional poetry, using the style of long, free verse prose. In which he praises everything. It is impossible to talk about modern poetry without making any references to traditional poetry.


Knowing more about the poet can help you understand the poems. Accurate poetry interpretation can only be done by the reader. Poetry is a very personal experience. Walt Whitman intended this poem to have a very specific meaning, but you must discover that meaning for yourself. Avoid basing your interpretation on the opinions of others. Trust yourself. Have faith in yourself. This was Whitman’s goal, to encourage others to build their self-confidence.

When Leaves of Grass was published in 1855, the United States did not have its own form of literature or poetry. Most of our literature prior to the Civil War still came from Europe. Leaves of Grass was Walt Whitman’s attempt to create original American poetry.

Walt Whitman was a transcendentalist. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, he believed that everyone was connected through the over-soul. The over-soul was an idea influenced by Hindu beliefs. According to Emerson, the over-soul was the soul that connected everyone and everything. The same soul that is in me is in you. The same soul that is in you is in the trees. The same soul that is in the trees is in the ocean. The same soul that is in the ocean is in the soil.

Since everyone was connected, we are all equal. This idea is why Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience. Civil Disobedience influenced the peaceful protest movements of both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Whitman promoted these ideas of universal connectedness and equality in his poetry. The best example of this in Leaves of Grass is Song of Myself. In Song of Myself, Whitman explained his connection to everyone and the connection of everyone to himself. Since everyone was connected and equal, evil and immorality did not exist. Because of this belief, Leaves of Grass talked openly about relevant yet taboo issues. He even used Leaves of Grass to freely proclaim his homosexuality.


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. A British friend of Walt Whitman, Mary Smith Whitall Costelloe, wrote: “You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass.

He has expressed that civilization, ‘up to date,’ as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him.” Modernist poet Ezra Pound called Whitman “America’s poet… He is America.”Andrew Carnegie called him “the great poet of America so far”. Whitman considered himself a messiah-like figure in poetry. Others agreed: one of his admirers, William Sloane Kennedy, speculated that “people will be celebrating the birth of Walt Whitman as they are now the birth of Christ”.

The literary critic, Harold Bloom wrote, as the introduction for the 150th anniversary of Leaves of Grass: If you are American, then Walt Whitman is your imaginative father and mother, even if, like myself, you have never composed a line of verse.

You can nominate a fair number of literary works as candidates for the secular Scripture of the United States. They might include Melville’s Moby-Dick, Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Emerson’s two series of Essays and The Conduct of Life. None of those, not even Emerson’s, are as central as the first edition of Leaves of Grass.

Whitman’s 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. Whitman also influenced Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, and was the model for the character of Dracula.

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