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Walt Whitman Biography | Poet

Photo of Walt Whitman

Walter and Louisa Whitman lived in Brooklyn and Long Island, New York through the 1830’s, with their nine children. Their second child, Walt, was born on May 31, 1819. He would live an exciting life, becoming one of the world’s most influential poets. He passed away on March 26, 1892 of Tuberculosis. He is buried in a tomb he designed for himself, in Camden, New Jersey.

When he was only twelve years old, Whitman began learning how to be a printer. It was during this training he fell in love with the printed word. He taught himself how to read so he could experience the works of Homer, Shakespeare, and the Holy Bible. He carried on working as a printer in New York City, until the building was destroyed in a fire. When he was seventeen, in 1836, he accepted a position teaching in a one room school house. He stayed there teaching until he decided to become a full time journalist in 1841.

Whitman worked for a few newspapers in New York City and Brooklyn, even starting his own weekly paper called The Long-Islander. When he was offered a position in New Orleans in 1848, he gladly accepted and moved south. He was startled to see the slave trade first hand, the cruelty of slavery and the affects on those who weren’t allowed to be free.

In 1855, he published his first collection of poetry. It contained twelve untitled works, of which he sent a copy of to Ralph Waldo Emerson. The second release of his book was published a year later. This edition included thirty-three works and a letter from Emerson, praising the first edition he received. Emerson was greatly amazed at the unique style that Whitman was able to capture in his writing. Throughout the remainder of his life, he kept refining and fine tuning his collection, publishing several more editions.

His parents followed the Quakers thoughts on war. Their strong feelings for peace were well instilled in their son, who found other ways to support the troops after the Civil War began. He worked as a freelance writer and journalist, visiting many wounded in the hospitals in and around New York City. In 1862, he travelled to Washington D.C. to care for his brother, who had been wounded. Letting his compassion take over, he decided to stay and work in the hospital there for eleven years. He spent any extra money, including royalties and gifts from family, on supplies for the patients. He struggled financially through most of his life, but he insisted on giving what he could to help others.

In the early 1870’s, he returned to Camden, New Jersey to visit his dying mother. Unfortunately he suffered a paralyzing stroke while there and was unable to make the trip back to Washington D.C. He stayed with his brother until the next edition of his works was published, giving him enough money to buy his own home. He spent the remainder in his life in that house, preparing a new edition of his book and compiling his final works. His autopsy showed bronchial pneumonia had nearly destroyed his lungs, with his cause of death being general military tuberculosis.

Being one of the greatest poets and writers in the literary world, Walt Whitman was much more than simply a writer. He spent many years volunteering as a nurse during and after the Civil War. He was very frustrated by slavery, but still upheld his personal beliefs and found a way to help. He is arguably one of the most innovative poets in written history. 

Walt Whitman: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes