Walt Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist, widely known as one of America’s greatest poets. He was also a humanist, resonating strong social and political values and being an influential part of the 19th century. His poem ‘Leaves of Grass’ is often seen as his masterpiece and considered the most important work of its kind in American literature.
Whitman was born in 1819 in New York to a large, working class family. He was educated at home, although without a formal education, took in several fields including law, printing and journalism, teaching, carpentry and doing manual labour in Brooklyn; this gave Whitman a broad understanding of life and of ideas.
Whitman is known for his insight and courage, his artistic complexity and diversity of expression, as well as his willingness to confront any subject that was neither obvious nor expected in his work. His poetry is characterized by a strong sense of musicality and rhythm, and a unique style of language. His most famous work, ‘Leaves of Grass’, is an ode to the natural, sensual world around him, incorporating all the senses in a rhythmic exploration of the universal. His lines are dense and the messages embedded within often appear erudite, yet remain accessible to the layman. He was identified as a progressive during his time, speaking about religion, slavery, women, racism and the civil rights movement.
In conventional literary terms, Whitman resists classification. His writing underwent tremendous changes, from his intense and visionary early work to the more settled, looser works he published later, which he declared as ‘done with a little more of grace’. One can draw parallels between his works and the different sections of his life: his idealism of youth, his middle age and his artistic freedom. This forms an oeuvre that is both cohesive and holistic, encapsulating disparate threads of diverse experience and emotion.
Whitman’s work is seen as a reflection of the human experience, challenging and emotive. His lines were often direct, deep and pointed, presenting his ideas of nature, beauty and life without needing to express himself in florid language or complex metaphors. He composed verse that seemed to almost engross the reader in itself, seducing them with its cadences, while exposing the most elemental emotions and desires in life. In doing so, he opened up an entire world of poetic expression, which was previously unexplored by the antecedent writers.
Aside from ‘Leaves of Grass’, Whitman is known for a number of poems and works such as ‘Song of Myself’, ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’, ‘Drum-Taps’ and ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’. In these works, he used direct and simple language to convey an overarching sense of renewal and hope, and a sense of unity among all things. His writings have been praised by many, from Thomas Hardy and Ezra Pound to Robert Frost and Langston Hughes, who declared Whitman “the father original of young America”.
Forms of his Writings
Whitman found his way to deeper feelings and so made writing that was unconventional to the conventions of meter and rhyme. He broke norms in poetic form by including various themes of nature, democratic ideas and humanity. His poems often aimed to promote the union of all things and to convey the uplifting prospects of self reflection. Through his writing, Whitman opened empirical understanding on how each individual’s experience was innately valuable even in subjective ways, free from the anchoring power of other people’s opinion and judgement . Whitman was famous for poems such as ‘Song of Myself’, in which he explored the boundaries between personal and collective experience, the spiritual and physical, and is seen as a reflection of the human experience. Moreover, Whitman experienced a great number of influences from other writers and poets, including Robert Burns, Shakespeare and Milton. He was also able to identify and extract aspects from a wide variety of topics which he could then apply to his own work.
Whitman’s Legacy on Literature
Whitman left an indelible mark on literature, with many of his works continuing to be adapted and reinterpreted in films, plays and other forms of multimedia. His works appeared to be evergreen works, expressing the human experience and are applicable in different areas of life. Whitman is known for his progressive views, in both his works and his private life. He championed civil service reform, prison reform and abolishing slavery, and supported women’s suffrage. He was also known for being a progressive thinker, writing in various voices and constantly challenging and developing the views of the public. As a poet, Whitman was able to influence a generation of the present day and onward and many of today’s poets, songwriters and musicians, who continue to look to him for guidance.
The Poetry of Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman’s poetry is primarily concerned with a broad array of topics, starting from nature to love and democracy. His mastery of verse focused on creating emotion and conveying truth and experiences of life. Whitman used many forms of poetic and stylistic techniques, such as allusions, paradoxes and personification. He also incorporated and combined several elements of the different poetic genres of that period, writing narratives, odes and sonnets in a very unique Whitmanesque poetic style. Through his use of repetition and sound, Whitman was able to create a new type of poetry – a lyrical, melodic verse that was at the same time romantically modern.
Whitman’s technical skills and breadth of vocabulary have been praised by many, from famous writers and critics to the readers of his work. His ability to write in a vivid, complex, and poetic manner paved the way for new forms of expression in American literature and cemented his place as one of the most influential poets of all time.
The Influence of Walt Whitman on Society
Whitman’s work has left an indelible mark on society and upon the minds of all who study his work. He continued to push boundaries in his works and to challenge societal norms and conventions. His poetry not only connected with readers on a spiritual level but it also contained great moral and ethical insight. He identified and explored themes that were otherwise overlooked by the mainstream, such as equality and democracy. Whitman continued to champion human rights, even when mainstream culture was in disagreement, believed in the potential of humanity, and had an abiding desire for all people to live harmoniously.
The themes of Whitman’s poetry have managed to transcend the boundaries of time and can still be found in many forms, from literature in classrooms to being quoted in modern films and television series. His message continues to influence the current wave of creativity, inspiring a call to action for those who still believe in his message of hope and equality for all.
The Reception of Whitman’s Poetry
Whitman’s work was received with both appreciation and criticism. While some readers were enraptured by the depth and emotion of his poem, many found his writing to be too wild and chaotic. Even before his death, Walt Whitman was subject to various kinds of criticism, largely due to the fact that his works openly embraced the human condition, without the benefits of political correctness or social decorum. Whitman stood out as a daring journalist, whose unyielding understanding of complex issues made him the target of much literary critique and backlash. However, in spite of this, his works were widely read and highly regarded by many.
Whitman’s most famous work, ‘Leaves of Grass’, was widely praised and widely discussed, becoming one of the major turning points in American literature. His influence on acclaimed writers and poets such as Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence and Alfred Lord Tennyson, among many others, established him as one of the most influential figures of 19th century literature.
Politics and Opinions of Walt Whitman
Whitman resided in the United States at a time of tremendous ebbs and flows in history, with the War Between the states, the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement all playing important roles in his literary works. In spite of all of this, Whitman was an advocate for humanity, friendship and truth and spoke out against hypocrisy and injustice. His famous works included the “Democratic Vistas” and the “Calamus” cluster, both of which demonstrated his strong views on the need for social justice and his anti-slavery stance. Whitman was against racial segregation, advocating for equal rights decades before the civil rights movement, and believed that everyone possessed the potential for greatness.
In addition to his views on racism, Whitman also championed women’s rights, believing that women were as capable of greatness as any man. His poetry contains feminist themes, often celebrating the power of the feminine and exploring the female experience. His works were progressive, embracing unconventional topics and themes, delivering with clarity the need for the world to be a better place.
Whitman’s Writings as a Means of Expression
Whitman was a prolific writer, writing all types of works, from commentary and articles in newspapers, to poems and even books. He wrote on a wide variety of topics, from geology to the New York stock exchange. His works often tackled difficult and serious topics, such as race and the human condition, and he often used his poetry as a way to express himself and his beliefs about the world. His works contain rich imagery and stirring words, and his technical expertise and dexterity in the use of language was unparalleled. Through his craft, Whitman explored the depths of his soul and his vision of the world, and in doing so, he allowed a generation of writers to tap into their own depths of creativity.
Whitman’s ability to capture both beauty and the underlying emotion of humanity has been praised by many great writers, both contemporary and modern, including William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson. His works, even today, are still considered to be a major source of inspiration by many. They contain a unique mix of emotion and thought, allowing readers to take away whatever lessons or reflections that the poem allows for, and experience the story within in a very personal and intimate way.