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Detail of Biography - Walt Whitman
Name :
Walt Whitman
Date :
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564
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Birth Date :
31/05/1819
Birth Place :
Not Available
Death Date :
March, 26,1892
Biography - Walt Whitman
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[b]The Pioneers Of Democracy[/b][br /]
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At the turn of the 19th century, the United States of America was bequeathed upon by two men, one of whom later changed the political history of the nation, while the other contributed equally in the field of literature. Just a decade after Abraham Lincoln's birth, the great American poet Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819. Both the legends lived and died defending the basic right of a human being : freedom. Both advocated democracy and contributed immensely in molding the American mindset to support democracy anywhere on the Earth.[br /]
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Walt Whitman was second of the nine children born to Walter Whitman Sr, who was of English descent. His mother, Louisa Van Velsor, was a Dutch. They were ordinary farm people with little formal education. A large tract of land owned by the Whitman family had to be forfeited by the time Walt was born. Walter Whitman Sr had to take up carpentry to earn his livelihood. The first four years of Walt’s life were spent at South Huntington. Then Walter Whitman Sr moved to Brooklyn. Here, he speculated in real estate but his poor management failed to provide for his large family of nine children.[br /]
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[b]The Brooklyn Years[/b][br /]
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Brooklyn was the heart of activities at that time as it was inhabited by immigrants who had come to accomplish 'the great American dream'. Walt's childhood was interspersed with vivid memories of the neighborhood and residents. The event that always stood foremost in his memory was his meeting the great French Hero of American Revolution, General Lafayette. Six year old Walt was a part of a crowd cheering the arrival of their hero in New York. General picked up Walt from the crowd and carried him along for a while. Walt was delighted to be the chosen one and he cherished the memory of the incident all through his life. He later reviewed it as a symbolic union of the Hero of the Revolution and the future poet of democracy.[br /]
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Brooklyn also provided him an opportunity to live near East River, where he enjoyed the ferry rides to and from New York city. He loved the ferries and liked to observe the ferrymen carrying on their daily business. His experience here always stayed with him and he put it into words in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.[br /]
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[b]Self-Education[/b][br /]
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Though there is little information of his education, it is learnt that he studied at a public school in Brooklyn. The Whitmans could not afford the expensive private school, so Walt studied with pupils of variety of ages and backgrounds, with one thing common among them - poverty. At the age of 11 he left school and took a job as an office boy with a lawyer's firm. His employer gave him membership of a library, which nurtured the creativity lying low within him. Since then he remained an enthusiastic reader, his reading ranging from literary classics, theatre and music to history, geography and archeology. He was also interested in the print trade. He was later employed as a printer with Patriot in Brooklyn and New York City. He finally ended up being a journalist.His Brooklyn and New York years are the most influencive years on his development into a poet. His observations as well the exposure that he got of the world around, made him more articulate.When he turned 17, the great fire of New York almost destroyed the print business and Walt was forced to move to Long Island where his family had shifted few years back.[br /]
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[b]At Long Island[/b][br /]
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He had to make a career decision here. He took up teaching as a profession. It was quite unusual that a young man of minimal qualification was teaching other pupils of almost his age, but his experience with newspaper had developed good reading and writing habits in him. He utilized his skills and made learning enjoyable for his students. At the same time the Brooklyner or New Yorker in him was not happy with his life in Long Island. He had also started writing poems by the time and one of his poems later became a part of Leaves Of Grass.[br /]
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[b]Career Turn[/b][br /]
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Finally exasperated, he left his teaching assignments and started writing short stories for various magazines including American Review and The Democratic Review. his first published story was Death In The School-Room, based on his teaching experience. He produced his best fiction during 1840-1845. In 1842, Whitman's Franklin Evans : or The Inebriate was published in New World.[br /]
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By that time he knew New York and New York journalism thoroughly. He became the chief editor of a daily newspaper in New York, but more significant was that he became editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a prominent newspaper of that time. Relieved from this newspaper Walt went to New Orleans, Los Angeles, where he worked for three months on the Crescent. He returned to New York, built houses and dabbled in real estate until 1855.[br /]
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[b]Roots Of The Grass[/b][br /]
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By 1855, Whitman came out with some good poems in his own inimitable style. However, to publish them, he had to sell his house. His political views were also sharpened by his being in the field of journalism. He was feeling frustrated by the compromising policies of the Democratic party and his frustration found an expression in form of Leaves Of Grass. The first volume contained 12 works in the first edition 1855, which grew to over 300 works in the last edition in 1892. He printed the first edition of the Leaves of Grass at his own expense, which carried a portrait of Walt himself. The volume consisted some inspiring poems which were intended for the readership of an average American. The first edition was brought out without featuring the author and publisher’s name. Essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson appreciated the collection of poems, saying that it was the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom. Publication of his most celebrated book was shadowed by the death of his father within a week. Suddenly the household responsibility was shouldered to young Whitman.[br /]
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[b]Poetry Continued[/b][br /]
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Whitman’s new style of poetry writing continued in his notebooks, which was brought out as the second edition of Leaves of Grass. Lack of financial success from this second edition compelled Whitman to edit the Brooklyn Times once again. A Boston publisher took pains to publish the third edition of Leaves of Grass by re-arranging and analyzing it but the ongoing American Civil War led to a severe financial crisis and eventually the firm went bankrupt.[br /]
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As Whitman’s brother was injured at Fredericksburg during the outbreak of the American Civil War, Whitman rushed there and stayed in the camp to take care of him for some time. He took a post in the paymaster’s office in Washington and spared time to visit wounded and dying soldiers in the Washington hospitals. He even took pains to spend his miniscule salary on gifts for both confederate and unionist soldiers and tried his level best to lessen the mental depression and physical sufferings.[br /]
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[b]Impact Of War[/b][br /]
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In the beginning of 1865, he first took up the job of a clerk in the department of the Interior. Then with the help of a friend, journalist William O’Connor, he was employed in the Attorney General’s office.[br /]
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The year 1865 saw Whitman bringing out a very different kind of poetry. The American Civil War had a great impact on Whitman’s mind and so this collection of war poems echoed the bitterness he had experienced during the war. The reader got new insights into his sufferings, as was resonant in his poems. Whitman was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln and his democratic thoughts. He also wrote an elegy on President Abraham Lincoln.[br /]
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[b]Peter Doyle[/b][br /]
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During this period, Whitman struck one of the most important relationship of his life. On a return journey from a friend's home, late on a stormy night, he met Peter Doyle. The conductor of the streetcar and Whitman instantly developed good friendship. They soon became very good friends and the intimacy extended upto inviting severe criticism from society. Though they never lived together, Doyle visited him regularly at his apartment.[br /]
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Whitman’s work then started getting recognition. Apart from O’Connor’s The Good Gray Poet and John Boroughs’ Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person, Whitman also received much encouragement from many leading writers in England.[br /]
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The year 1872 found Whitman in ill–health. May be due to emotional strains of sexual ambiguity. He became partly paralyzed by the first stroke he suffered in 1873. Recovering a bit, he traveled to his brother’s home, lucky enough to be present when his mother was on her deathbed. He called his mother’s death as 'the great cloud' of his life. He continued living with his brother thereafter.[br /]
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[b]Last Years[/b][br /]
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By 1879, he recovered enough to make a visit to the West. Another edition of Leaves of Grass, published by James R Osgood, was acclaimed as immoral and so Osgood refused to complete the work. Then Whitman found, David McKay, a new publisher to complete his work. Leaves of Grass got good publicity in newspapers and it became the bestseller among all its editions. The financial success allowed Whitman to buy a little cottage in Camden, where he lived for the rest of his life. He made friendship with many which included Horace Trauble, who wrote his biography. He developed good and somewhat controversial relationships with several young men, Harry Stafford and Frederick Warren Fritzinger being the most important ones. To Harry he left his silver watch in his will while Traubel got the gold one. Frederick Warren Fritzinger (Warry) was there with Whitman throughout his last days, nursing him in his deathbed. The poet of democracy died on March 26, 1892 of illness of his lungs. The ninth edition of Leaves of Grass appeared and in the same year Whitman died.[br /]
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[b]WALT WHITMAN [1819 – 1892] [/b][br /]
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Walt Whitman, the great poet, was every inch an American. His poems, including those in Leaves Of Grass, advocate the principles of freedom and democracy that the USA always stood for. Even his style of writing deviated quite a bit from the usual 19th century poetry. His free verse and experiments with rhythem are outstanding compared to the meter-bound structures in use at his time. [br /]
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Apart from being a poet he was also an essayist, short story writer, journalist, editor, printer and educator. He was a true nationalist. His poems upheld the democratic values of the United States of America. He expressed, "The chief reason for the being of the United States of America is to bring about the common goodwill of all mankind, the solidarity of the world." Leaves of Grass, his collection of poems is considered to be one of the world’s major literary works and is acclaimed as a revolutionary development in poetry. At the time of his death, Whitman was more respected in Europe than in his country. He was acknowledged and recognized as a symbol of American democracy. This surpassed the recognition and fame he got as a poet. His universality and versatility made him one of America’s greatest poets.[br /]
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[b]May 31, 1819[/b] Birth of Walt Whitman.[br /]
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[b]1823[/b] His father along with family moved to Brooklyn.[br /]
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[b]1831 - 36[/b] Whitman learned printing trade and worked briefly as a printer.[br /]
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[b]1836 - 38[/b] Fire destroyed the New York presses, Whitman moved back to London, Founded a weekly newspaper, Wrote his first short stories and verse.[br /]
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[b]1841 - 45[/b] Whitman moved to New York City. Worked as a compositor for New World, later worked as a Journalist and Printer for Aurora and The Evening Tattler, Published his first stories, which included Death in the School Room and novel Franklin Evans.[br /]
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[b]1845[/b] Began his theatre, music and literary criticism for The Brooklyn Eagle.[br /]
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[b]1848 - 49[/b] Moved to New Orleans with brother Jeff and worked for New Orleans Crescent. Then returned to edit the Brooklyn Freeman.[br /]
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[b]1849 - 54[/b] Worked as freelance journalist. Published four poems, which later appeared in Leaves of Grass.[br /]
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[b]1855[/b] Published first edition of Leaves of Grass.[br /]
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[b]1856[/b] Published second edition of Leaves of Grass. Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott visited Whitman in Brooklyn.[br /]
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[b]1857 - 59[/b] Edited Brooklyn Times.[br /]
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[b]1860[/b] Went to Boston and supervised the third edition of Leaves of Grass.[br /]
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[b]1861 - 62[/b] Devoted himself to people injured in the Civil War. Found his wounded brother George.[br /]
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[b]1865[/b] Appointed as clerk in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.[br /]
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[b]1867[/b] Published fourth edition of Leaves of Grass along with Part I of Democratic Vistas.[br /]
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[b]1868[/b] Published Part II of Democratic Vistas.[br /]
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[b]1870[/b] Published fifth edition of Leaves of Grass, also Democratic Vistas and Passage to India.[br /]
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[b]1874[/b] Published a Prayer of Columbus and song of the Redwood Tree.[br /]
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[b]1876[/b] Published sixth edition of Leaves of Grass.[br /]
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[b]1881[/b] Supervised seventh edition of Leaves of Grass.[br /]
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[b]1882[/b] Published his prose work Specimen days and Collect.[br /]
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[b]1888[/b] Published eighth edition of Leaves of Grass and in November Boughs suffered another paralytic stroke.[br /]
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[b]1892[/b] Published Good Bye My Fancy and ninth edition of Leaves of Grass, Died on March, 26[br /]
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[b]His Fiction[/b][br /]
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Walt Whitman started his career as a fiction writer. However, he was far from the life, changing commitment while writing fiction; he finally developed an attitude towards experimental poetry. His fiction appeared in 20 different newspapers and magazines. His best years were 1840-45 during which his stories appeared in leading magazines such as American Review (later called the American Whig Review) and the Democratic Review, one of the prominent and prestigious magazines of the country. Some of his themes later on appeared in his great work Leaves of Grass. His other poems were Franklin Evans (1842), Democratic Vistas (1871), Memoranda, During the War (1875), Specimen Days and Collect (1881).[br /]
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[b]His Poetry[/b][br /]
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An important and subtle change came in Whitman’s life during his poetic transformation. Whitman’s increasing frustrations with the Democratic Party led him to move ahead with his experimental poetry, poetry which would be read by most Americans and change their way of thinking. Thus the focus was on the principal issue of division of the United States, which appeared in Leaves of Grass.[br /]
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His transformation of notebook lines to free verse, linking black and white, to join master and slave is best seen here[br /]
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"I am the poet of the body[br /]

And I am the poet of the soul[br /]

And I am[br /]

I go with the slaves of the earth equally with the masters[br /]

And I will stand between the masters and the slaves,[br /]

Entering into both so that both will understand me alike."[br /]
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The above ‘I’ became the main character in his work Leaves of Grass. His experiences of civil war are best revealed in Drum Taps.[br /]
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[b]Leaves of Grass[/b][br /]
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The first edition of Leaves of Grass published in 1855 did not appeal to the public at large and the American readers seemed confused and indifferent towards it. However, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the distinguished intellectual, hailed it. Primarily, Whitman was known through Leaves of Grass only. It had nine editions. According to Whitman, the completed book was like a cathedral, long under construction. He also compared it to a tree, growing cumulatively. In the poem he urged American citizens to be broad-minded and generous in spirit. It deals with nationalistic ideals and his aim to develop and express his own personality. In his leading poem Song of Myself he characterized himself as[br /]
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"Walt Whitman, and American, one of the roughs, a Kosmos.[br /]

Disorderly fleshy and sensual … eating, drinking and breeding,[br /]

… Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touched from …[br /]
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The ‘I’ here go beyond time and space, linking past with present and pointing the future, proving Whitman’s belief that poetry is the true form of knowledge and peak of wisdom in humanity.
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Leaves of Grass is acclaimed as a masterpiece of world literature and brought recognition to Whitman as America’s national poet.[br /]
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[b]Drum Taps[/b][br /]
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Whitman was engaged in writing poems on war experiences during the period he spent at the hospital. The wounded soldiers, battle nightmares in memory of departed soldiers, all these experiences, were post war effects. He gathered all these in poetic form and the collection of these poems was called Drum Taps. The title presented both the striking of 'Drums' that accompanied soldiers into battle as well as the striking of 'Taps' at the death march during the burial of soldiers. Apart from reacting to the traumatic Civil War, he also reveals the futility of war.[br /]
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Whitman received the news of death of his idol in politics, President Abraham Lincoln, when Drum Taps had already been sent for printing. He found consolation in his mother's dooryard, filled with the beauty of blooming lilacs. His nerves soothed, he rushed in to write an elegy to Lincoln. And the world of literature was enriched by When Lilacs last In The Dooryard Bloomed.[br /]
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[b]Passage To India[/b][br /]
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It was a follow up volume to Leaves of Grass. It was a volume of 75 poems. It appreciated the highly publicized work of engineers, especially the advice of global linking, accomplished by transcontinental railroad, the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal. Whitman’s appreciation of engineers, architects and machinists led the organizers of 1871 exposition of American Institute (a large industrial fair) to welcome Whitman and deliver a poem at the grand opening.[br /]
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[b]•[/b] This is what you shall do : Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men… re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem.[br /]
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[b]•[/b] To have great poets, there must be great audiences too.[br /]
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[b]•[/b] Nothing endures but personal qualities.[br /]
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[b]•[/b] I say that democracy can never prove itself beyond cavil, until it founds and luxuriantly grows its own forms of art, poems, schools, theology, displacing all that exists, or that has been produced anywhere in the past, under opposite influences.[br /]
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[b]•[/b] If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.[br /]
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[b]•[/b] Camerado ! This is no book; who touches this touches a man.[br /]
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[b]•[/b] Some people are so much sunshine to the square inch.[br /]
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[b]•[/b] Do I contradict myself ? Very well then I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes).[br /]
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[b]•[/b] I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.[br /]
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