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Walt Whitman
*presentation adapted from Prentice Hall Literature: The American Experience
“America’s Poet”
 “The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him
as affectionately as he absorbed it.” –Walt Whitman,
preface to Leaves of Grass
 Although his poetry was not as popular as he would
have liked it to be during his lifetime, Whitman is
currently recognized as one of America’s most gifted
 “Uncle Walt”
Whitman’s Career
 Born on Long Island in 1819
 Raised in Brooklyn
 Became editor of the Brooklyn Eagle when he was 27 years
 Fired in 1848 because of his outspoken disdain and
opposition to slavery
 Worked for a newspaper in New Orleans and travelled the
country, noting the diversity of America’s geography and
 1850—gives up journalism to exclusively write poetry
Leaves of Grass
 Poetry anthology first published
in 1855
 Ralph Waldo Emerson called it
“the most extraordinary piece of
wit and wisdom that America has
yet contributed”
 However, poet John Greenleaf
Whittier hated it so much that he
he threw his copy of the book into
the fireplace
Whitman’s Poetry
 Whitman continually revised and expanded Leaves of Grass
for the rest of his life
 An “evolving vision of the world”
 Poetry focuses on:
The “spiritual unity of all forms of life”
The “potential of the human spirit”
 He had a “unique ability to absorb and comprehend
everything he observed”
Styles and Techniques
 style- the manner in which a writer puts his or her
thoughts into words
 catalogs- the piling up of images or concrete details
Ex: “My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this
soil, this air / Born here of parents born here from parents
the same, and their parents the same” (“Song of Myself ”)
 parallelism- use of similar grammatical structures to
create rhythm, provide structure, and emphasize ideas
 free verse- verse that has irregular meter and line length
(Whitman is the first American poet to use free verse)
Famous Poems
 A fan of Abraham Lincoln:
 “O Captain! My Captain!”
 “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”
 Not a fan of the Civil War:
 “Beat! Beat! Drums!”
 Other poems:
 “Song of Myself ”
 “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
“O Captain! My Captain!”
 April 9, 1865: Robert E. Lee surrenders to Ulysses S.
Grant, ending the Civil War
 April 14, 1865: Abraham Lincoln is assassinated by
John Wilkes Booth during a performance at Ford’s
 1865: Walt Whitman writes “O Captain! My
Captain!” after Lincoln’s death
 extended metaphor- a sustained comparison in which
part or all of a poem consists of a series of related