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Walter Whitman

Walter Whitman
Through the history of the United States
there have been a countless numbers 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.

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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 the first edition. To get a decent start, Whitman even
went so far as to write complimentary unsigned reviews of his book which
he had placed in the newspapers- “An American bard at last! “- his own
words of his first work, showing his audacity to be well thought of. Whitman
wrote only one


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