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The Great American Bard: WALT WHITMAN

Walt Whitman was the poet of America and championed the cause of democracy and equality. He was born on May 31, 1819, at West Hills in Long Island, New York. His father, Walter was a farmer and carpenter. His mother, Louisa Van Velsor had a Quaker background. Whitman passed his boyhood in poverty and want. He left school at the age of eleven and worked at a variety of jobs - as an office boy, as a printer's devil, as a printer, as a rural school teacher. He had a speculative and dreamy temperament from the very beginning. His career as a rural school teacher from one place to another lasted for three years from the age of seventeen to the age of twenty.

From the age of twenty to thirty-six (when Leaves of Grass was born) Whitman worked for various newspapers, including The Long Islander, The New York Aurora, and The Brooklyn Evening Star. At the age of twenty-seven, he became the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. During his period as editor, Whitman lived the full life of the man about the town. He was a veteran opera goer. In 1848, Whitman accepted a job on the staff of a newspaper in New Orleans. He travelled widely throughout America. His political beliefs compelled him to give up his job as a journalist. For some time he worked as a carpenter. He published the Leaves of Grass in 1855, its second and third editions appeared in 1856 and 1860 respectively. Gradually he built his own literary circle and joined the society of Bohemian New York. He also visited a broadway beer-parlour to meet his literary friends such as Thomas Bailey Aldrich, E.C. Stedman and R.E. Stoddard. When he was forty-one, the Civil War broke out and Whitman with his creative vigour rose up to the occasion. He served the wounded persons of the Civil War in Washington. Having been inspired by the miseries and agonies of the wounded, he wrote 'Drum Taps' and published it in 1865. This was a collection of poems. Shortly after its appearance President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Whitman wrote 'O Captain! My Captain! in this great man.

Whitman also served for sometime in the Department of the Interior. In 1865 he was relieved of this government job too. The year 1873 was a year of many private disasters for Whitman. In 1873, at the age of fifty-four, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke. In May 1873 his mother died. He left Washington and came back to his birthplace. Finally he settled in Camden, New Jersey. By far 'Leaves of Grass' was his most popular collection of poems. Other works that appeared were Democratic Vistas (1871), Specimen Days (1882-83), November (1888).

During these final days he had a number of friends and associates. Among those, two wrote his biographies. They were Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, a Canadian psychologist and Horace Traubel. Whitman was well-prepared for death. He had portrayed death as "strong deliveress" in When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, and he had even dramatised his own dissolution at the end of 'Song of Myself. He died on 26 March 1892, at the age of seventy-two.

Prescribed poems: Songs of Myself, Out of the Cradle, Reconcilation


Literary Works Year
Leaves of Grass (1st edi.) 1855
Leaves of Grass (2nd edi.) 1856
Leaves of Grass (3rd edi.) 1860
Democrative Vistas 1871
Specimen Days 1882-83
November Boughs 1888
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