Walt Whitman

Here are the roughs and beards and space and ruggedness and nonchalance that the soul leaves. -- Walt Whitman

The one man breaking a way ahead. Whitman, the one pioneer. And only Whitman. No English pioneers, no French. No European pioneer-poets. In Europe the would be pioneers are mere innovators. The same in America. Ahead of Whitman, nothing. Ahead of all poets, pioneering into the wilderness of unopened life, Whitman. -- D H Lawrence

The Americans are not worthy of their Whitman. -- D H Lawrence

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), American poet, journalist, essayist. Mainly known for Leaves of Grass.

Born into a family that settled in America in the 17th century, of Dutch mother and English father. Became an office boy at the age of eleven, subsequently worked as wandering school teacher, and contributor to and editor of various magazines.

Whitman spent most of his life walking and observing the life of New York City and Long Island.

Leaves of Grass went through several editions. First published privately (1855) and financed through the sale of his house. Highly praised by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), who received a personal copy 'I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit & wisdom that America has yet contributed.' Regarded as immoral and indecent. Whitman was fired from the Department of the Interior for the obscene content.

Whitman's only other notable publication was Drum-Taps (1865), poetry on the American Civil War.

Much of Whitman's work was censored and not published. Sam Abrahams has managed to track some of it down and published it as The Neglected Walt Whitman (1993).

Whitman saw the function of the poet to express himself in verse. He saw himself as a subversive. The true successor to Whitman was the radical American poet and subversive Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997).

At the time of his death Whitman was more respected in Europe than America.


Sam Abrahams (ed), The Neglected Walt Whitman, Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993

John Hayward (ed), The Penguin Book of English Verse, Penguin, 1956

D H Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, 1921

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (orig 1855 ed), ed Malcolm Cowley, Penguin, 1959

Literature ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~ Allen Ginsberg ~
(c) Keith Parkins 1999 -- June 1999 rev 0