Walt Whitman By: Noah Foss

Poet and journalist Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819 in West Hills, New York. Considered one of America's most influential poets, Whitman aimed to transcend traditional epics and eschew normal aesthetic form to mirror the potential freedoms to be found in America. In 1855 he self-published the collection Leaves of Grass; the book is now a landmark in American literature, though at the time of its publication it was considered highly controversial. Whitman later worked as a volunteer nurse during the Civil War, writing the collection Drum Taps (1865) in connection to the experiences of war-torn soldiers. Having continued to produce new editions of Leaves of Grass along with original works, Whitman died on March 26, 1892 in Camden, New Jersey.

Called the "Bard of Democracy" and considered one of America's most influential poets, Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819 in West Hills, Long Island, New York. The second of Louisa Van Velsor's and Walter Whitman's eight surviving children, he grew up in a family of modest means. While earlier Whitmans had owned a large parcel of farmland, much of it had been sold off by the time Walt was born. As a result, his father struggled through a series of attempts to recoup some of that earlier wealth as a farmer, carpenter and real estate speculator.

Whitman's own love for America and its democracy can be at least partially attributed to his upbringing and his parents, who showed their own admiration for their country by naming Walt's younger brothers after their favorite American heroes. The names included George Washington Whitman, Thomas Jefferson Whitman and Andrew Jackson Whitman. At the age of three, the young Walt moved with his family to Brooklyn, where his father hoped to take advantage of the economic opportunities in New York City. But his bad investments prevented him from achieving the success he craved.

At 11, Walt Whitman was taken out of school by his father to help out with household income. He started to work as an office boy for a Brooklyn-based attorney team and eventually found employment in the printing business.

His father's increasing dependence on alcohol and conspiracy-driven politics contrasted sharply with his son's preference for a more optimistic course more in line with his mother's disposition. "I stand for the sunny point of view," he'd eventually be quoted as saying.

When he was 17, Whitman turned to teaching, working as an educator for five years in various parts of Long Island. Whitman generally loathed the work, especially considering the rough circumstances he was forced to teach under, and by 1841 he again set his sights on journalism. In 1838 he had started a weekly called the Long Islander that quickly folded (though the publication would eventually be reborn) and later returned to New York City, where he worked on fiction and continued his newspaper career. In 1846 he became editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a prominent newspaper, serving in that capacity for almost two years.

Whitman proved to be a volatile journalist, with a sharp pen and a set of opinions that didn't always align with his bosses or his readers. He backed what some considered radical positions on women's property rights, immigration and labor issues. He lambasted the infatuation he saw among his fellow New Yorkers with certain European ways and wasn't afraid to go after the editors of other newspapers. Not surprisingly, his job tenure was often short and had a tarnished reputation with several different newspapers.

Whitman proved to be a volatile journalist, with a sharp pen and a set of opinions that didn't always align with his bosses or his readers. He backed what some considered radical positions on women's property rights, immigration and labor issues. He lambasted the infatuation he saw among his fellow New Yorkers with certain European ways and wasn't afraid to go after the editors of other newspapers. Not surprisingly, his job tenure was often short and had a tarnished reputation with several different newspapers.

In 1848 Whitman left New York for New Orleans, where he became editor of the Crescent. It was a relatively short stay for Whitman—just three months—but it was where he saw for the first time the wickedness of slavery.

Whitman returned to Brooklyn in the autumn of 1848 and started a new "free soil" newspaper called the Brooklyn Freeman, which eventually became a daily despite initial challenges. Over the ensuing years, as the nation's temperature over the slavery question continued to rise, Whitman's own anger over the issue elevated as well. He often worried about the impact of slavery on the future of the country and its democracy. It was during this time that he turned to a simple 3.5 by 5.5 inch notebook, writing down his observations and shaping what would eventually be viewed as trailblazing poetic works.

Three quotes by Walt Whitman

"When I give, I give myself." - Walt Whitman

"Keep you face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you." -Walt Whitman

"To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle." -Walt Whitman

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Noah Foss
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