Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Walt Whitman was born in 1819 in New York, from a working-class family. At the age of eleven, he started working as an office boy and later became a journalist. Since young age, he became a strong supporter of democratic causes, a fact that can be noticed on the first edition of his lifelong poem “Leaves of Grass”, where he was photographed as a “democratic bard”. Whitman published his collection of poems nine times, and each time had a specific topic added. For example, with the third one he gained the reputation of homosexual; and in the fourth, he wrote about the Civil War and President Lincoln. During his last years, he retired in New Jersey, where admirers and disciples came to visit him. He died in 1892.
His poetry started to become popular in Europe in the 1870s and influenced future writers and artists, such as Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, and the Beat Generation.
Style and themes:
Whitman rejected all poetical rigidities. In fact, his poems were in free verse and the rhythm was naturally determined by the thought or emotion expressed. In addition, the language used was new at the time; it was a mix of common speech and scientific and philosophical jargon.
His poetry was characterized by a transcendental sense of the unity of all things. He had faith in the American future and celebrated the variety of his country. He considered the poet a prophet, whose task was to reveal the truth and to respond to the spirit of his people. In his poems, Whitman writes a lot about himself. He sees his person as contained in other men and women, and embraces mankind and brotherly love. He also deals with physical love; in fact, the theme of sex is developed with a directness and frankness that shocked his contemporaries.