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Walt Whitman Biography

The biography of Walt Whitman. This page has biographical information on Walt Whitman, one of the best poets of all time. This PoetrySoup page also provides access to the poet's poems, best poetry, quotes, and video biographies...if available.

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Walt Whitman Biography | Poems (332)
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Widely considered to be one of America's best and most influential poets.. American poet essayist journalist and humanist


Walter "Walt" Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) is widely considered to be one of America's best and most influential poets.

Translated into more than 25 languages, Whitman is said to have invented contemporary American literature as a genre[citation needed].He abandoned the rhythmic and metrical structures of European poetry for an expansionist freestyle verse, which delivered his philosophical view that America was destined to reinvent the world as emancipator and liberator of the human spirit.

Whitman, American poet, essayist, journalist, and humanist was born in West Hills, Huntington on Long Island in New York. His most famous work is Leaves of Grass, which he continued to edit and revise until his death. A group of civil war poems, included within Leaves of Grass, is often published as an independent collection under the name of Drum-Taps.

The first versions of Leaves of Grass were self-published and poorly received. Several poems featured graphic depictions of the human body, enumerated in Whitman's innovative "cataloguing" style, which contrasted with the reserved Puritan ethic of the period. Despite its revolutionary content and structure, subsequent editions of the book evoked critical indifference in the US literary establishment. Outside the US, the book was a world-wide sensation, especially in France, where Whitman's intense humanism influenced the naturalist revolution in French letters.

By 1864, Walt Whitman was world famous and Leaves of Grass had been accepted by a publishing house in the US. Though still considered an iconoclast and a literary outsider, the poet's status began to grow at home. During his final years, Whitman became a respected literary vanguard visited by young artists. Several photographs and paintings of Whitman with a large beard cultivated a "Christ-figure" mystique. Whitman did not invent American transcendentalism, but he had become its most famous exponent and he was also associated with American mysticism. In the 20th century young writers such as Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac rediscovered Whitman and reinterpreted his literary manifesto for younger audiences.

Poetry

After losing his job as editor of the Daily Eagle because of his abolitionist sentiment and his support of the free-soil movement, Whitman self-published an early edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855 with Rome Brothers.

Except for his own anonymous reviews, the early edition of the book received little attention. One exception was Ralph Waldo Emerson, the philosopher and essayist. A few prominent intellectuals such as Oliver Wendell Holmes were outwardly opposed to Whitman and found his sensuality obscene and utterly homosexual. [citation needed]

It was not until 1864 that Leaves of Grass found a publisher other than Whitman. That 1860 re-issue was greatly enlarged, containing two new sections, "Children of Adam" and "Calamus". [8] This revising of Leaves of Grass would continue for the rest of his life, and by 1892, Leaves of Grass had been reissued in more than seven different versions.

English composers of the early 20th century, notably Gustav Holst, Frederick Delius, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, felt a strong affinity for Whitman's poetry. Williams' Symphony #1, "A Sea Symphony", uses Whitman's poems superbly, as does his "Dona Nobis Pacem".

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