Walt Whitman 1819-1892

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman
“I look in vain for the poet whom I
 “We have yet had no genius in America
who knows the value of our
incomparable materials.”
From “The Poet”
“I was simmering, simmering,
simmering; Emerson brought me to a
Whitman publishes his first edition of Leaves
of Grass in 1855
Emerson’s review of Leaves of
“I find it the most extraordinary piece of
wit and wisdom that America has yet
contributed . . . I greet you at the
beginning of a great career.”
Leaves of Grass
Breaks with conformity
Leaves of Grass
 First edition: 95 pages, 12 poems
“Song of Myself”
 “I celebrate myself,/And what I assume you
shall assume,/For every atom belonging to
me as good belongs to you”
Whitman’s vision
Equality, national purpose, international
 1860…Third addition included 100
poems, including his controversial “sex
 “Children of Adam” and “Calamus”
 Encourages readers to think for
themselves…break with conformity…
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpeLSMK
Civil War
Volunteer nurse
 Assists in field hospitals
 Sits with sick, reads to them, writes
letters for them, gets them whatever little
items he can to ease their suffering
 Writes poems about the war…
 “Drum-Taps” (a section of Leaves of
Lincoln’s Assassination
“When Lilacs last in the Dooryard
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the
western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with everreturning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star
in the west,
And thought of him I love.
“O Captain! My Captain!”
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we
sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel
grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and
hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for
you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d
wreaths—for you the shores acrowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass,
their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
The arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale
and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no
pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its
voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with
object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
Fifth Edition
“A Passage to India”
 Shows his vision of universal fraternity
 Celebrates the joining of east and west by
transcontinental railroad, the Suez Canal,
and transatlantic cable
“God’s purpose” “The people to become
brothers And sisters”
Poetic Influence
 Free verse
 No consistent rhyme, meter, or pattern
 Follows natural speech
Chief structural devices:
parallelism: repetition of idea, sound,
first person singular point of view