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Walt Whitman Essay "The Peoples Poet"

Updated on January 8, 2014

The American Poet

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman | Source

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was born May 31, 1819 in West Hills, Long Island. Whitman was an unconventional poet for his time. He followed closely the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, taking a lot of Emerson’s hopes for the future of literature. He was the first poet to write the style of poetry that we now call free verse. He began a new era of poetic expression. One of his most well known works is called Leaves of Grass, a work that he published, revised and publish again many times until the year he died in 1892.

Whitman began publishing his first poems at the early age of 12. He spent most of his working life as a book reviewer and editor for various publishers. Whitman also worked as a carpenter for a short time. He often attended the opera, and attributed the quality of writings in Leaves of Grass first published in 1855, to his experiences at the opera.

Throughout his life he met many early and influential writers, including Longfellow, Melville, Emerson and Thoreau. He became close friends with both Thoreau and Emerson, who critiqued his writings positively and negatively.

Whitman had a goal to be the people’s poet, to represent the common man. He felt that poetry written for the affluent societies was superficial. His slow beginnings as a published poet drove him to fabricate positive reviews under a fake name in orders to gain readership. His eventually successful, Leaves of Grass can be read as an ever changing reflection of his life.

In 1850 Whitman published Live Oak with Moss, a set of 12 poems that is said to be an expression of his love for another man. These poems were not published in his lifetime. Later publications of Leaves of Grass expressed his acceptance and interest in same sex relationships. He was attracted to women also, as he expressed this in his verse. He was banned several times because of the subject matter of his poems.

During the Civil war he became involved with taking care of the injured soldiers after he visited his brother-in-law who had been injured fighting in the war. In the beginning of his volunteer work, taking care of the soldiers, he supported the war and was excited to be a part of the action. However, as time passed he grew saddened by the devastation he witnessed and wrote several poems speaking of the sadness he felt when seeing the injured. This work, Specimen Days (1882) titled The Real War Will Never Get in the Books and was the main theme of his famous Drum Taps (1865) collection.

Whitman experienced a stroke in 1873 and after a long recovery period he permanently retired and began to write exclusively. He never fully recovered from his stroke. Toward the end of his life he commissioned work for a mausoleum to be built. He would call it burial house. In 1891 he oversaw the termed “death bed edition” of Leaves of Grass. Whitman died in 1892 and was buried in his mausoleum at Harleigh Cemetery.

My thoughts on Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was a man that was not afraid to live life. He experienced everything he could and expressed it in his works. He was ahead of his time and not very well understood. He wanted to create an American brand of literature and break from the British style of writing. His heartfelt work on Leaves of Grass is a beautiful tale of life, love and beauty. This work can be read and re-read throughout your life and you will continuously find a deeper and deeper understanding of his message. He was a free spirit and a true artist. He has influenced many writers, including myself. He was the self proclaimed American poet, the poet of the people. That is apparent in his poem Song of Myself first published in 1855. He wanted people to reflect on history and learn from it, take hold of the present and experience it. He recognized humanity as a dynamic spirit of peoples to be upheld and respected no matter your class. He accepted criticism, but did not let it hold him back. I think he is one of the greatest writers of his time and continues to be one of the greatest writers to this day.

What do you think?

Are you a fan of Whitman's work?

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    • KimberlyLake profile image

      Kimberly Lake 5 years ago from California

      Thank you Charles, i couldn't agree more. He was before his time, thank you for your comment.

    • profile image

      Charles 5 years ago

      Hi, Kimberly. Good to see that old Walt still inspires. As you know, he didn't get such a welcome when he first published Leaves of Grass, and the sensuality of his poems offended many sensibilities. Just goes to show he was doing something right.

    • KimberlyLake profile image

      Kimberly Lake 5 years ago from California

      @ramerican Thank you for commenting. I think Whitman is one of the most important writers in early American literature. I enjoy his work very much. I will enjoy reading your hubs on him.

    • ramerican profile image

      ramerican 5 years ago

      Good work, Kimberly. I just joined Hubpages and I've written two articles on Whitman so far, discussing some of these themes from a different angle. Voted up!

    • profile image

      John 5 years ago

      This is a great research thing. Helped me out alot. thanks boo ! ;)

    • KimberlyLake profile image

      Kimberly Lake 6 years ago from California

      @Graham Thanks for the comment. I would have found him interesting to have around too. He was a pioneer for his time and opened up a new way of writing for many poets today. His biography is very interesting, and his work, Leaves of Grass is a good study.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Kimberly. A very interesting character. It would have been nice to have had him round to dinner. What conversations would have followed! Great hub.


    • KimberlyLake profile image

      Kimberly Lake 6 years ago from California

      @Vellur Thank you for commenting, I hope you get to read some of Whitman's work.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 6 years ago from Dubai

      Interesting and informative. I write in free verse, however it comes to me in my mind mind - Hats off to Wall Whitman, now everybody can write poetry. Voted up. Shared it with everybody.