Walt Whitman

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Walt Whitman was looked upon as the forerunner of 20th Century poetry, praising democracy, and becoming a proclaimed poet of American democracy. He was known as the "Son of Long Island," and he loved his country and everything about it. (Current, Williams, Freidel- page 292-293). Whitman lived during the time of the Civil War; a fact that increased his patriotism. Whitman was considered one of the most important American Poets of the 19th Century. (Encyclopedia of World Biography- page 249). He influenced the direction of 20th Century poets such as Erza Pound, William Carlos Williams, Carlos Sandberg, and Allen Ginsberg. Whitman praised democracy and spoke of the flesh as well as the spirit. (Encyclopedia of Biography- page 249). He rejected the normal rhyme and meter of poetry and wrote in free verse, relying on Native American language. In general, Whitman's poetry is idealistic and romantic. Whitman identified strongly with the outcasts of society. He said to one outcast, "Not till the sun excludes you do I exclude you." (Lowen, Nancy- page 11) People hailed him as the most authentic voice of the United States of America. Edgar Allen Poe had said, "The vitality and variety of his life was the mere reflection of the vitality and variety of the United States of America." Walter Whitman was born into a family of nine children and he had a rough childhood. The Whitman family first settled in the Huntington area by the middle of the seventeenth century. This helped him to write two of the world’s greatest literary works, "There was a Child Went Forth" and "Song to Myself." (Lowen, Nancy- page 6). "There was a Child Went Forth" was about his siblings and his childhood. Out of nine children, only four survived to live to old age. He spoke of how his siblings died and how it affected his family. Whitman had one sibling who was insane, one who was severely retarded, one who died at infancy, one who died of alcoholism, one who died of tuberculosis, and one who fought and almost died in the Civil War. These things directly effected the writing of this poem. (Lowen, Nancy- page 6). "Song to Myself" spoke of his childhood and how it directly affected the fact that he was going to reject the norm, how he did not care about what people thought ...

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...poetic styles exerted a major influence on American thought and literature. Today, Whitman's poetry has been translated into every major language. He has had over 2000 poems published. It was widely recognized as a formative influence on the work of such American writers as Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens. Allen Ginsberg in particular was inspired by Whitman's bold treatment of sexuality. Many modern scholars have sought to assess Whitman's life and literary career. (Encyclopedia of World Biography- page 251).

Current, Richard N., Freidel, Frank, and Williams, T. Harry. American History: A Survey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971. Pages 292-293 Encyclopedia of Biography: Volume 16. "Walt Whitman." New York: Gale Research Publications, 1998. Pages 249-251 Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980. Pages 124-145, 202-222, 270-303 Lowen, Nancy. Voices in Poetry: Walt Whitman. Minnesota: Creative Editions, 1994 Various. A Treasury of the Worlds’ Best Loved Poems. New York: Avenel Books, 1951. Pages 143-161 Webster, Orville III. 50 Famous Americans. Los Angeles: JBG Publishing, 1991. Pages 122-124.
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