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About this poet

Born on May 31, 1819, Walt Whitman was the second son of Walter Whitman, a housebuilder, and Louisa Van Velsor. The family, which consisted of nine children, lived in Brooklyn and Long Island in the 1820s and 1830s.

At the age of twelve, Whitman began to learn the printer's trade, and fell in love with the written word. Largely self-taught, he read voraciously, becoming acquainted with the works of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and the Bible.

Whitman worked as a printer in New York City until a devastating fire in the printing district demolished the industry. In 1836, at the age of seventeen, he began his career as teacher in the one-room school houses of Long Island. He continued to teach until 1841, when he turned to journalism as a full-time career.

He founded a weekly newspaper, Long-Islander, and later edited a number of Brooklyn and New York papers. In 1848, Whitman left the Brooklyn Daily Eagle to become editor of the New Orleans Crescent. It was in New Orleans that he experienced firsthand the viciousness of slavery in the slave markets of that city. On his return to Brooklyn in the fall of 1848, he founded a "free soil" newspaper, the Brooklyn Freeman, and continued to develop the unique style of poetry that later so astonished Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In 1855, Whitman took out a copyright on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, which consisted of twelve untitled poems and a preface. He published the volume himself, and sent a copy to Emerson in July of 1855. Whitman released a second edition of the book in 1856, containing thirty-three poems, a letter from Emerson praising the first edition, and a long open letter by Whitman in response. During his lifetime, Whitman continued to refine the volume, publishing several more editions of the book. Noted Whitman scholar, M. Jimmie Killingsworth writes that "the 'merge,' as Whitman conceived it, is the tendency of the individual self to overcome moral, psychological, and political boundaries. Thematically and poetically, the notion dominates the three major poems of 1855: 'I Sing the Body Electric,' 'The Sleepers,' and 'Song of Myself,' all of which were 'merged' in the first edition under the single title Leaves of Grass but were demarcated by clear breaks in the text and the repetition of the title."

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman vowed to live a "purged" and "cleansed" life. He worked as a freelance journalist and visited the wounded at New York City–area hospitals. He then traveled to Washington, D. C. in December 1862 to care for his brother who had been wounded in the war.

Overcome by the suffering of the many wounded in Washington, Whitman decided to stay and work in the hospitals and stayed in the city for eleven years. He took a job as a clerk for the Department of the Interior, which ended when the Secretary of the Interior, James Harlan, discovered that Whitman was the author of Leaves of Grass, which Harlan found offensive. Harlan fired the poet.

Whitman struggled to support himself through most of his life. In Washington, he lived on a clerk's salary and modest royalties, and spent any excess money, including gifts from friends, to buy supplies for the patients he nursed. He had also been sending money to his widowed mother and an invalid brother. From time to time writers both in the states and in England sent him "purses" of money so that he could get by.

In the early 1870s, Whitman settled in Camden, New Jersey, where he had come to visit his dying mother at his brother's house. However, after suffering a stroke, Whitman found it impossible to return to Washington. He stayed with his brother until the 1882 publication of Leaves of Grass (James R. Osgood) gave Whitman enough money to buy a home in Camden.

In the simple two-story clapboard house, Whitman spent his declining years working on additions and revisions to a new edition of the book and preparing his final volume of poems and prose, Good-Bye, My Fancy (David McKay, 1891). After his death on March 26, 1892, Whitman was buried in a tomb he designed and had built on a lot in Harleigh Cemetery.

Along with Emily Dickinson, he is considered one of America's most important poets.



Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Leaves of Grass (David McKay, 1891)
Good-Bye, My Fancy (David McKay, 1891)
Leaves of Grass (James R. Osgood, 1881)
Passage to India (J.S. Redfield, 1870)
Leaves of Grass (J.S. Redfield, 1870)
Leaves of Grass (William E. Chapin, 1867)
Drum Taps (William E. Chapin, 1865)
Sequel to Drum Taps (William E. Chapin, 1865)
Leaves of Grass (Thayer & Eldridge, 1860)
Leaves of Grass (Fowler & Wells, 1856)
Leaves of Grass (self-published, 1855)

Prose

Complete Prose Works (David McKay, 1892)
November Boughs (David McKay, 1888)
Memoranda During the War (self-published, 1875)
Democratic Vistas (David McKay, 1871)
Franklin Evans; or, The Inebriate (New World, 1842)
 


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

So Long

Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892
1

To conclude—I announce what comes after me;   
I announce mightier offspring, orators, days, and then, for the present, depart. 
   
I remember I said, before my leaves sprang at all,   
I would raise my voice jocund and strong, with reference to consummations.   
   
When America does what was promis’d,
When there are plentiful athletic bards, inland and seaboard,   
When through These States walk a hundred millions of superb persons,   
When the rest part away for superb persons, and contribute to them,   
When breeds of the most perfect mothers denote America,   
Then to me and mine our due fruition.
   
I have press’d through in my own right,   
I have sung the Body and the Soul—War and Peace have I sung,   
And the songs of Life and of Birth—and shown that there are many births:   
I have offer’d my style to everyone—I have journey’d with confident step;   
While my pleasure is yet at the full, I whisper, So long! 
And take the young woman’s hand, and the young man’s hand, for the last time.   
     

2

I announce natural persons to arise;   
I announce justice triumphant;   
I announce uncompromising liberty and equality;   
I announce the justification of candor, and the justification of pride.
   
I announce that the identity of These States is a single identity only;   
I announce the Union more and more compact, indissoluble;   
I announce splendors and majesties to make all the previous politics of the earth
     insignificant.   
   
I announce adhesiveness—I say it shall be limitless, unloosen’d;   
I say you shall yet find the friend you were looking for.
   
I announce a man or woman coming—perhaps you are the one, (So long!)   
I announce the great individual, fluid as Nature, chaste, affectionate,
     compassionate, fully armed.   
   
I announce a life that shall be copious, vehement, spiritual, bold;   
I announce an end that shall lightly and joyfully meet its translation;   
I announce myriads of youths, beautiful, gigantic, sweet-blooded; 
I announce a race of splendid and savage old men.   
   

3

O thicker and faster! (So long!)   
O crowding too close upon me;   
I foresee too much—it means more than I thought;   
It appears to me I am dying.
   
Hasten throat, and sound your last!   
Salute me—salute the days once more. Peal the old cry once more.   
   
Screaming electric, the atmosphere using,   
At random glancing, each as I notice absorbing,   
Swiftly on, but a little while alighting,
Curious envelop’d messages delivering,   
Sparkles hot, seed ethereal, down in the dirt dropping,   
Myself unknowing, my commission obeying, to question it never daring,   
To ages, and ages yet, the growth of the seed leaving,   
To troops out of me, out of the army, the war arising—they the tasks I have
     set promulging,  
To women certain whispers of myself bequeathing—their affection me more
     clearly explaining,  
To young men my problems offering—no dallier I—I the muscle of their
     brains trying,   
So I pass—a little time vocal, visible, contrary;   
Afterward, a melodious echo, passionately bent for—(death making me really
     undying;)   
The best of me then when no longer visible—for toward that I have been
     incessantly preparing.
   
What is there more, that I lag and pause, and crouch extended with unshut mouth?   
Is there a single final farewell?   
   

4

My songs cease—I abandon them;   
From behind the screen where I hid I advance personally, solely to you.   
   
Camerado! This is no book;
Who touches this, touches a man;   
(Is it night? Are we here alone?)   
It is I you hold, and who holds you;   
I spring from the pages into your arms—decease calls me forth.   
   
O how your fingers drowse me!
Your breath falls around me like dew—your pulse lulls the tympans of my
     ears;   
I feel immerged from head to foot;   
Delicious—enough.   
   
Enough, O deed impromptu and secret!   
Enough, O gliding present! Enough, O summ’d-up past!
   

5

Dear friend, whoever you are, take this kiss,   
I give it especially to you—Do not forget me;   
I feel like one who has done work for the day, to retire awhile;   
I receive now again of my many translations—from my avataras ascending—while others
     doubtless await me;   
An unknown sphere, more real than I dream’d, more direct, darts awakening rays
     about me—So long!
Remember my words—I may again return,   
I love you—I depart from materials;   
I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead. 

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Born on May 31, 1819, Walt Whitman is the author of Leaves of Grass and, along with Emily Dickinson, is considered one of the architects of a uniquely American poetic voice. 

by this poet

poem
1

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd,   
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,   
I mourn'd—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.   
   
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;   
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of
poem
Come up from the fields father, here's a letter from our Pete, 
And come to the front door mother, here's a letter from thy
   dear son.

Lo, 'tis autumn, 
Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder,
Cool and sweeten Ohio's villages with leaves fluttering in the
   moderate wind,
Where apples ripe in
poem

1

Something startles me where I thought I was safest,
I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
I will not go now on the pastures to walk,
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea,
I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other flesh to renew me.