umbers of poets. With them came an equal number of writing styles. Certainly one of the most unique poets to write life’s story through his own view of the world and with the ambition to do it was Walter Whitman. Greatly criticized by many readers of his work, Whitman was not a man to be deterred. Soon he would show the world that he had a voice, and that it spoke with a poet’s words. Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me, the long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Thus Whitman began his “Song of the Open Road”. This paper will attempt to describe his life and poetry in a way that does justice to the path he chose. He was a man who grew up impoverished, who wrote from his experiences, and who tried to lift his fellow men above life’s trivialities. These are the points to be discussed on these pages. To know the essence of Walter Whitman, you would have to understand the heart of his writing. For he is in his pen.
Walter Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island, New York, on May 31, 1819 . He did not have much opportunity for education in his early life. His parents were mostly poor and illiterate- his father a laborer, while his mother was a devout Quaker. Whitman was one of nine children and little is known about his youth except that two of his siblings were imbeciles. No wonder he demonstrated such an insight for life in his poems.
In 1830, at the age of eleven, he worked as an office boy for a lawyer, where he learned the printing trade. Whitman would soon take up teaching at various schools in Long Island. He also engaged in carpentry and house building while he edited newspapers. His early years seemed to show an active interest in working with the public.
Whitman at one time accepted a job with a New Orleans newspaper, and in doing so exposed himself to a great deal of the country. Getting to New Orleans required traveling over the Cumberland Gap and down rivers, of which he later wrote. America seemed to be both his home and inspiration. In “Calamus”, part of his single book, Leaves of Grass, he writes of Louisiana as a “live oak growing”, thus showing the joy he felt in everything he saw . In short, Whitman lived trough the nation’s heroic age, at a time when people had to be (or seemed to be) a little more than life-size to accomplish all the deeds they undertook. It was natural that Whitman, with his genius and metaphysical inclinations, should have drifted into journalism, a profession that could make some demands on his native endowments. As much as he was a traveler, he was also a man of the people. In one of his reviews, he described himself as “never on platforms amid the crowds of clergymen, or professors, or aldermen, or congressmen- rather down in the bay with pilots in their pilot boats- or off on a cruise with fishers in a fishing smack- or writing on a Broadway omnibus, side by side with the driver- or with a band of loungers over the open grounds of the country- fond of New York and Brooklyn- fond of the life of the great ferries.” Whitman obviously felt a kinship with his country, and later exhibited this in his writings. He also was not a man to follow others. “Self-reliant, with haughty eyes, assuming to himself all the attributes of his country, steps Walt Whitman into literature, talking like a man unaware that there was ever hitherto such a production as a book, or such a being as a writer”.
Whitman’s major work, Leaves of Grass, was first published on the fourth of July in 1855. He was thirty-six years old, not yet a published writer, and could not find any company willing to take a chance on his unusual style. His experience in newspapers allowed him to help publish his work himself, even setting up some of the type and distributing