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Maria Ramirez 2/12/2013

Walt Whitman
May 1, 1819- March 26, 1892

Walter Whitman was born May 1, 1819; he was the second of nine children. He left school at age eleven, however continued his education through his own means. He voraciously read anything he could get his hands on, and was primarily influenced by Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, and the Bible. In his childhood however, some of the most significant influences to Whitman’s poetry was simply his environment. His favorite thing seems to have been the ferries. They fascinated him. The idea of daily commutes-which he linked to life and death is a common theme in his works. One work in particular, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” served as the most succinct depiction on his feelings toward this idea. His miscellaneous print jobs, which succeeded his education, would also factor into his desire to write. And, in the years to come he would even become an editor for the the New York Aurora, and the Brooklyn Eagle all shortly after creating his own newspaper, the Long Islander. He would spend the next several years attempting to perfect his own writing style. It was during the 1850’s that Whitman would begin his call to fame through his newly formed connections. Famously, he quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson as writing “I greet you at the beginning of a great career” about the first edition of Leaves of Grass, which he had published at his own expense in 1855. The book had a rough start, as many believed it to be scandalous and at times vulgar; not to mention many believed that it was not poetry at all since he had no rhyme scheme, and regardless of how many times he put the word “poem” in a title, there were critics

However. Though Whitman did not physically fight in the war his poetry was a kind of weapon. Whitman’s life took a sharp turn for the less expected in 1861 with the beginning of the Civil War. and this would inspire his work. Many of the people got to know him. the working class which he always seemed to admire and lean toward. but mostly because of Enfans d’Adam which he later renamed Children of Adam. He had during most of his life enjoyed making hospital visits to the Broadway hospital in New York which housed some of the most gravely injured day laborers. and overt imagery. this was what was most shocking to Emerson as he would try to persuade Whitman to omit these poems from the book. as the . in which he expressed his lament at the failure of the relationship. And. and he considered them friends. through his anonymous self-praise as well as that of well respected writers like Emerson. for the rest of his life. And. he was quoted on the spine of the second edition of Whitman’s book in 1866.Maria Ramirez 2/12/2013 who would simply call his work garbage. It was around this time period that Whitman met Fred Vaughan. Vaughan would marry shortly after their meeting. Calamus. After this time he would spend most of his energy on the publication of the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. It was another telltale sign of his love for the average person. He succeeded in bringing attention to his works. Unfortunately. which he wielded for the sake of so many wounded soldiers. in part because of Calamus. which is arguably the most controversial. this was during a time in which Whitman was exploring the possibilities of a male-male relationship. a work which was most scandalous in its blunt sexuality. which continued to be dissected for its implications about sexuality for decades. However. Walt Whitman was deeply affected as a person and a poet by the Civil War. although it cost him Emerson’s friendship. Interestingly.

The war did not leave Whitman without his own scars of course. A southern artillery man from the war. fragments of men who had fought for a union which he himself had glorified. The piles of amputated limbs. And.Maria Ramirez 2/12/2013 Civil War wore on ceaselessly. through his fascination with the human body. This could be evidenced in his poetry. he felt it an obligation to go to Washington. horrified him. as the book was still of ill repute. His next book in Leaves. and help as much as he could in the makeshift hospitals.and even managed to get help from Emerson to get the job. although as expressed through several of Whitman’s writings were never able to return Whitman’s affection with the same magnitude of feeling. however when they discovered that he was the writer of Leaves of Grass he was dismissed. After the war Whitman would try his hand in politics. His writing had always focused on epitomizing the body. and the soul which gave life to it. It was during this time when he is said to have remarked that had he not been a poet he would have been a doctor. although he succeeded in locating his brother on the battlefield. However.working for the department of the interior. would focus on the lives of these men. Drum Taps.what he witnessed at the battlefront would affect the soul of the poet for the rest of his life. during the course of the war he was led to believe that his brother could have died in combat. who had lost.something he considered necessary. one of the most significant occurrences during this time period was that he met Peter Doyle. in Whitman’s mind a part of their soul. He was able to stay in Washington with a clerk job for many years. . who after the war became an average person who inspired several of Whitman’s poems and would remain a close friend to for the rest of his life.

and as the many revisions to Leaves of Grass will attest. His family is buried with him. During the early stages of Walt Whitman’s career. which although not his immediate cause of death. He wrote for the common man. or who were so average. his relationship with the then eighteen year old Stafford is mostly a mystery.Maria Ramirez 2/12/2013 Whitman suffered a stroke during his time as a clerk. did impede his ability to work as his left leg was left paralyzed. He would influence the creation of modern free verse. most literary criticism that didn’t originate from him was a mixture of deep appreciation for his work. As he was seeing less and less of Doyle during this time. His treatment of sexuality was considered by some to “innocent. you would not consider the depth of their story. and where he met Harry Stafford. contrasted by shock at what was considered indecent language. Bringing voice to those who had lost the will to speak. This. His poems.” while others regarded it as “[American Literature’s] worst disgrace” (Thoreau. . Interestingly. regardless of how extraordinary he was. Where he would continue working on his poetry. he had planned his burial since 1885 when he had a mausoleum built on land which he had acquired years prior. coupled with the failing health of his mother would lead Whitman to move to Camden. Stafford remained a friend to Whitman until his death in 1892. though Stafford did marry a few years later. which at that time were considered unconventional were revolutionary in their style. and the relationship seems to have been mostly that of a father and son. New Jersey. but he also strove to live his life as a common man. Throughout his life. Whitman channeled the life around him into his poems.

and also patience. Whitman’s Leaves of Grass stirred such controversy in its time that this “common man’s” poet would one day be read by everyone but his intended audience (Whitman). they didn’t know what to write about his form other than the fact that he lacked it. though on a much more affectionate. and it most likely didn’t help that the same volume contained the work Calamus which depicted same sex relationships. and less physical manner. Though not alone in this feeling. and which in the eyes of this critic. He believed that the strict nature of a rhyme scheme was ill advised for his chosen audience. When Whitman wrote his book it was with every intention that the average man and woman be his audience. believing them to be inappropriate for reading by a woman. and certainly doing everything in their power to foster dissent in those who read Whitman’s work the criticism spent little time on the structure of his poetry. left Emerson in as much fault of moral as Whitman. or according to one religious magazine which believed that the book was so “detestable” that it should never have been written and that this “abomination” should in short not exist(Notices…). considering the . Though there was no specific work cited by the critic. Although many people at the original publication of his poems were scandalized by the nature of the poems. he did reference the second publication of the book in 1960.” failed in that endeavor (Whitman).Overall.Maria Ramirez 2/12/2013 Notices…). This particular critic was on the extreme of antiWhitman sentiment. What would most likely have caused such The Christian Examiner critic to believe that the work was an “affront on morality” was that the book focused on sexuality openly through poems in Children of Adam. Though Whitman wrote many of his own overly zealous criticisms in an attempt to sway the masses. However this “American bard. it was for this reason in part that he wrote in free verse. His works were always free verse and as such. Like many others. it was time which would lead to his following.which was unknowingly endorsed by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

as if he was an old. for the poem I choose to critique I found it refreshing to look at one of the poems he wrote during the Civil War era. he is revising it. The poem itself is a chronicle.” Stylistically it is almost as though he were telling the story to us. an anomaly. telling them about what he did during the war. the things which make a person see the work as inappropriate originate in that individuals mind. And. or most acclaimed work.Maria Ramirez 2/12/2013 times. It seems worth noting that in Thoreau’s review of Whitman’s poems he points out that the poem only supplies the language. It didn’t fit into a bubble. However. he pauses as though to take a breath by using dashes. that he is “an old man…answer[ing] to children. His work was acclaimed to being something simplistic. yet meaningful and even “innocent” (Thoreau). bearded bard. letting us know what he thinks of something that happened long ago. he was “greeted at the beginning of a great career” by one of greatest writers of the time (Schuster). It is all a story.but not every poem can be as grand as “Oh Captain! My Captain!” “The Wound-Dresser” was written by Whitman and published in 1867. He lends credence to his telling by taking no sides “the other was equally brave” is something he places in parenthesis as a side comment to the children. author’s dissonance in a poem as he is expressing his opinion in . sitting before these children. Perhaps not his most patriotic. And that was why so many critics would rant about his works not being poetry. although the poem itself would have been written around the time he participated as a medical aid. the focus of the poem was his experience as nurse during the Civil War. and makes comments aside using parenthesis which gives it the impression that he is telling this story. Since most of his critics chose to focus on the sexual nature of his poetry. as famously quoted by Walt Whitman. he begins the poem by telling us. the reader.

and what he valued As the poem progresses there is an evident shift in his story telling. And. that he was “faithful.. who were still experiencing life. there was a relative pattern to the work. It lets us know more about Walt Whitman as a person. And in the poem he uses imagery of the “bloody stump” left after an amputation and the subsequent “putrid gangrene. you can visualize what this was like for him. . Since he has no fixed rhyme scheme. Because that is what provides the image.” The blood that “reddens the grass” is the blood of the heroes which he has come to. as the poem is read aloud. there seems to be more importance in his punctuation. this poem vividly depicts a specific time period in Whitman’s life. The poem itself relies most heavily on imagery which he uses to convey the emotions he felt for these soldiers.Maria Ramirez 2/12/2013 a very direct manner to the reader.” Overall. he had thus far remarked on those soldiers. those “unsurpass’d heroes” who fought in the war. though not at regular intervals.” It is after this point that he begins to rely heavily on imagery. though free verse. the pauses allowed for interpretation of comments made by Whitman directly through the poem to readers. He saw the war as carnage. However he remembers the hardships and “few of the joys.” because he stuck around. and he soothed these men until their death. one which impacted him as a person for the rest of his life. it happens during an aside. and if he could he “would die for [them].

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