Much of the poetry of the 19th century and before was designed in an identical way. Most of the poems that were produced at the time had the same conventional meters, rhymes, structures, and traditional subjects. No one was going against the grain, and the traditional form of poetry was becoming a habit. One man broke free from that habit, earned a name for himself as the "Father of the Free Verse," and took a place in history as one of the most important and innovative orchestrators of American poetry. Walt Whitman set himself apart from the traditional rules that governed poetry.
Whitman contrasted sharply with his contemporaries, who wrote about themes that many had already written about long before, one example being love. Many people could relate to these familiar themes and topics, which had many elements that might have been fictional or fabricated. In the poem "When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer," Whitman explores the idea of searching and analyzing something for oneself rather than always heeding what others say:
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
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When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. (Whitman).
Whitman wanted to view the world through his own perspective, and not through the eyes, influence, or fantasy of others. Take Edgar Allen Poe for example, who "was blind . ....
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... I remove the veil, Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur'd," where he wants sex to be open and uncovered rather than be an object clouded in indecency, and in "A Glimpse," where he remembers "a youth who loves [him] and whom [he] [loves]" which could either be referring to his past youth or a homosexual lover, proves again that Whitman wanted the taboo to become mainstream and not be connected with a negative connotation. This concept was opposed to the public's taste, however. The openness of sex was too early for its time and even "Emerson [was] trying to persuade [Whitman] to tone down the sexuality, especially the homoerotic images" (Donald Hall). Whitman's revolutionary pioneering of sexuality in literature paved the path for the future of sexual expression, where sexuality and eroticism doesn't carry as much of a stigma as it once did.