Walt Whitman was born May 21, 1819. He was born into a family of nine children. In his childhood years his family lived in Brooklyn and Long Island. At the age of 12 he worked as a printer. This is where his love for written language began. When Whitman turned seventeen he became a teacher from 1836 to 1841. After this he then became a journalist. Whitman became the founder and editor of Long-Islander a weekly paper. Whitman moved to New Orleans and became the editor of the New Orleans Crescent. This was where Whitman encountered to slavery.
In 1855 Whitman brought the copyrights to his collection of poems entitled Leaves of Grass. This collection embodied twelve poems. Whitman later meets a man name Ralph Emerson who later helps Whitman publish his works. The second release of Leaves of Grass in 1856 contained 33 poems. During the Civil War Whitman was devoted to helping the wounded by working in hospitals in Washington. Whitman did not live a wealthy life. While he was visiting his dying mother he encountered a stroke and had to live with his brother in Camden, New Jersey until 1882 when Leaves of Grass was published. Whitman died on March 26, 1892 and was buried in a tomb that he designed and built himself.
“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is a poem about a man who takes the Brooklyn ferry home from work. This poem is one of Whitman’s best known poems because it presents Whitman’s idea that humans are united in their common experience of life. This poem is one of the last poems in Leaves of Grass. In this poem Whitman is able to present the idea that commonality of experience helps to bridge the gap between reader and author. Whitman first begins the poem with a distant attitude. Once the author shifts to addressing the crowd in second person the crowd turns into a collective group of people. Throughout the poem Whitman alternately despairs of his distance from his fellow peers.
Whitman also mimics the idea of the ebb and flow in his poem. The poem continually moves closer like as in the first section and then in the second section pulls away. The second section is filled with a series of abstract, meditative observances. The lines begin with “the” and have passive verbs to show the distance in this section. Whitman creates a somewhat of a rocking motion within each line of the poem. The rocking motion in some ways becomes mesmerizing because of the repetition and anaphoric lines.
The poems in Leaves of Grass are said to all be unified. The poems state that all nature is universal and what belongs to nature belongs to a man, body, and soul. The book is a gospel of self-assertion and self-reliance for every reader. The book is filled with new theories of Sociology, Literature, Religion, and Comradeship. The author confounds and at the same time contradicts many of the accepted cannons of life.
It is said that many who read this book will first be baffled or perplexed by it. Some critics felt that Leaves of Grass was indecent. During this time period sexual relations were not usually written about in poems. Whitman on the other hand celebrates these relations. Whitman treated these subjects with boldness and candor. The critics however felt these matters were ones of the most animalistic.
It is pretty difficult to read the first manuscript for “Song of Myself”. From what I can see though Whitman made numerous corrections in his word choices. He would cross out a complete word and change it to another. He also seemed very particular about the punctuation in this poem. In the poem “Song of the Open Road” on several pages of the manuscripts Whitman crosses out two complete lines of the poem. He also adds in parentheses to on line of the poem. Lastly, in this poem he also is very particular about the abundance of punctuation he uses.
Whitman incorporated natural speech rhythms into his poetry. He was inspired by Goethe, Hegel, Carlyle and Emerson. Whitman grew up in New York where he witnessed rapid growth which inspired him to write about new faith and hopeful expectations. Whitman’s third edition of Leaves of Grass was accepted with appreciation.
Whitman was born to Quaker parents. Whitman paid for the publication of the first edition of Leaves of Grass himself. He believed there was a relationship between the poet and society which was explicitly shown in “Song of Myself”. As far as religion Whitman was deeply influenced by deism.
Whitman knew the Bible thoroughly and desired to inaugurate a religion uniting all of humanity in bonds of friendship. Many of his poems contain words of French derivation from his influence in New Orleans. Whitman was also heavily influenced by music. Many of his four hundred poems contain musical terms, names of instruments, and names of composers.