meiko_matsui (meiko_matsui) wrote,

Walt Whitman

This awful Whitman. This post-mortem poet. This poet with a private soul leaking out of him all the time. All this privacy leaking out in a sort of dribble, oozing into the universe.
D H Lawrence
"On Walt Whitman." Inside American History. Abingdon/Cambridge: Helicon, 2007. History Study Center. Web. 12 Apr. 2011.

General Information
  • An American journalist, essayist, and poet.
  • Lived from May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892.
  • A known deist.
  • Very controversial due to his questionable sexuality and strong sexual themes throughout his poems, notably in the book of poetry Leaves of Grass.
  • He was a humanist. Therefore, he lived during the transition between transcendentalism and realism. Thus, he incorporated both views in his works.
  • Often called the father of free verse.

    Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. ISBN 0679767096

    Early Life
  • Born into a working class family
  • Named after his father
  • By the age of eleven, Whitman was done with his formal education.
  • Favorite story concerning childhood was when General Lafayette visited New York and selected him, at the time he was six years old, and carried him.
  • "Walt Whitman is thus of the first generation of Americans who were born in the newly formed United States and grew up assuming the stable existence of the new country."

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  • "This multiplicity of interpretations is perhaps a tribute to Whitman's ability to create a photo that could pass muster with a 19th-century readership but still reach out to same-sex-oriented men in a very special way. In either case, Whitman's sexualized self-presentation clearly points the way to a "different" kind of masculinity. Whitman was not only conscious of himself as an erotic figure but also eager to present himself homoerotically and appeal to men who desired other men, and to guide these men to the twenty-ninth bather, the Calamus poems, and other work that express their desires. The photo therefore acted as a kind of double agent, signifying rebelliousness to a broad audience but a more specific brand of it to a subset of men that he regarded as brothers."
  • "Whitman was also inventing a language of homosexuality, and the Calamus poems became very influential poems in the development of gay literature."

    Solomon, Jeff. "How Whitman seduced us with a photograph." The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 17.4 (2010): 43 . Academic OneFile. Web. 12 Apr. 2011.

    Controversial Material

  • Wrote Leaves of Grass which contained explicit sexual content and themes, along with many other controversial materials.
  • "In the nineteenth century, however, the Calamus poems did not cause as much sensation as Children of Adam because, even though they portrayed same-sex affection, they were only mildly sensual, evoking handholding, hugging, and kissing, while the Children of Adam poems evoked a more explicit genital sexuality. Emerson and others were apparently unfazed by Calamus and focused their disapprobation on Children of Adam. Only later in the century, when homosexuality began to be formulated in medical and psychological circles as an aberrant personality type, did the Calamus poems begin to be read by some as dangerous and "abnormal" and by others as brave early expressions of gay identity."

  • Celebrated the history, landscape, and culture of the United States through his works.
  • Throughout Civil War, he worked at army hospitals. Because of this he watched hundreds of soldiers suffer and die. He wrote about the tragic experiences in one of his poetry books: Drum Taps (1865)
  • "Whitman was a great admirer of President Abraham Lincoln, whom he viewed as a symbol of the nation's strength and democratic promise. In the two well-known poems reproduced here, ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ and ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd’, Whitman mourned the loss of his hero after Lincoln's assassination in April 1865."

    When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
    And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
    I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
    Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
    Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
    And thought of him I love.

    "Poems in Tribute to Abraham Lincoln: Walt Whitman." Inside American History. Abingdon/Cambridge: Helicon, 2007. History Study Center. Web. 12 Apr. 2011.

  • Cause of death unknown, however Whitman seemed to see it coming, and bought his own tomb shortly before his death.
  • Whitman's physician in the final year, noted that the autopsy showed Whitman to be free of alcoholism or syphilis.
  • Died March 26, 1892.
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