Walt Whitman, born on May 31, 1819, in West Hills, New York, was the son of Walter Whitman, a housebuilder, and Louisa Van Velsor. The family later moved to Brooklyn, where Walt's father worked as a carpenter. His childhood was marked by financial struggles, and he faced the loss of his father in 1855 and his mother in 1873.
Walt attended public schools in Brooklyn for a few years and displayed early brilliance in reading and learning. However, his formal education ended in 1830 due to financial constraints. He then embarked on a five-year journey in the printing trade. In 1836, he became a teacher in Long Island. Despite facing numerous challenges, he continued to hone his writing skills, eventually publishing his first novel in 1842.
A Life of Trials
Walt Whitman's life was marked by adversity, including his early departure from school to support his family. He worked as an editor, journalist, teacher, and freelance writer while pursuing his passion for reading and writing. In 1870, he battled depression and suffered two severe strokes that left him paralyzed.
Despite the trials he faced, Walt Whitman persevered, creating literary masterpieces throughout his life. He passed away on March 28, 1892, on Mickle Street.
Walt Whitman largely educated himself after leaving school at the age of eleven to support his family. He served as a male nurse in an army hospital during the American Civil War. He is buried in a tomb he designed and built for himself. He self-published 795 copies of the first edition of "Leaves of Grass" in 1885. He published eight editions of "Leaves of Grass" during his lifetime, cementing its status as a literary classic.
Walt Whitman, though lacking formal education, delved into writing at a young age. After leaving school, he learned the printer's trade at twelve and developed a deep affection for reading. His admiration for Shakespeare, Homer, and Dante fueled his passion. In 1841, he ventured into journalism, contributing to various newspapers. His first novel, "Franklin Evans," became a commercial success in 1842. In 1855, he self-published the first edition of "Leaves of Grass," a seminal work. He continued to write, with notable works like "Drum-Taps" and "Democratic Vistas" in 1870. Throughout his career, he continuously revised and expanded "Leaves of Grass."
Walt Whitman, despite life's challenges, carved a lasting place in literature with his clear style and profound ideas. Experiencing personal loss and witnessing the harsh realities of the Civil War deeply influenced his poetry. His themes often explored love, freedom, beauty, humanity, and the natural world. He used visual imagery, similes, metaphors, and sound devices to great effect. Cataloging was a technique he employed to illuminate the intricacies of human thought.
Some of his most celebrated poems include "Song of Myself," "I Sing the Body Electric," "A Noiseless Patient Spider," "O Captain! My Captain!," "Calamus," and "Song of the Open Road." In addition to poetry, he produced works like "Franklin Evans," "Drum-Taps," "Leaves of Grass," "Specimen Days," "Manly Health and Training," "Democratic Vistas," and "Life and Adventures of Jack Engle."
Legacy in Literature
Walt Whitman's impact on literature is profound. His self-conscious and diverse writing style left an indelible mark. His ideas and literary qualities continue to inspire writers and critics. Benjamin de Casseres, a famous American critic, hailed him as a father of futurists and cubists. Whitman's works are widely studied and anthologized across the world. His writing remains a source of emulation for writers in both prose and poetry.
"Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land." (Leaves of Grass)
"I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you." (Song of Myself)
"I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul, I say now these are the soul!" (I Sing the Body Electric)
Let's Talk About It
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