In the twentieth century, the name Walt Whitman has been synonymous with poetry. Whitman's most celebrated work, Leaves of Grass, was the only book he ever wrote, and he took a lifetime to write it. A large assortment of poems, it is one of the most widely criticized works in literature, and one of the most loved works as well. Whitman was unmarried and childless, and it has been noted that Leaves of Grass consumed him greatly; James E. Miller Jr. writes:
"…he guided his poetic offspring through an uncertain, hesitant childhood, a lusty young manhood, and a serene old age…it is difficult to write the life of Whitman without writing instead of the life and times of his book…Whitman was the kind of parent who lives his life through his child." (Miller 15)
The "poetic offspring" that Miller writes of is of course Leaves of Grass.
Whitman poured his soul into the work, as he questioned himself and observed his demeanor through his writing. He "fathered" the tome, as after its initial publishing Whitman went on to release revision after revision as time progressed. Miller goes on to reflect on Whitman's methods, as he tells the reader of Whitman's curiosity towards life, particularly curious about his own meaning in the world in which he lived.
"Like any individual of depth and complexity, Whitman was continuously curious about who he was…(he had) a lusty enthusiasm, a hearty relish for life lived at all times to its fullest intensity." (Miller 17)
The life Whitman lived "to its fullest intensity" started in West Hills, Long Island, May 31, 1819. He was one of nine children to Walter and Louisa Whitman, his father a farmer and his mother a devout Quaker. Quakerism was ...
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...e in which he could convey his opinion of life, and he succeeded. D.H. Lawrence writes:
"Whitman's essential message was the 'open road'. The leaving of the soul free unto herself, the leaving of his fate to her and to the loom of the open road. Which is the bravest doctrine man has ever proposed to himself." (Lawrence 20)
It is this "brave doctrine" that literary critics seem to be most attracted to, and they give high praise to Whitman for his courage in manufacturing this dogma. Literary criticism has been kind to Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass, hailing his innovation and bravery in attempting to write such a book. Whatever the real reason behind Whitman's brilliance, the fact remains that he was indeed brilliant. That virtuosity has shone through brightly in his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, making it a classic. "Not bad" for a Quaker from Long Island.
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