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  • The title “America’s Poet” is often applied to Whitman.
  • Parents were Deists but with a Quaker background. Whtiman’s father had long been a follower of Thomas Paine Radical Quakerism of Elizas Hicks--anti-institutional, placing much emphasis on the inner light. Emanuel Swedenborg. Although the family moved to Brooklyn when Whitman was 4 and he lived there and in New York and Washington for much of his life, he often drew on Long Island and its seashore--calling the island Paumonok, the Native American name for the place--in poems such as “Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking.”
  • In 1838-9, Whitman founds and publishes The Long Islander; writes for the Long Island Democrat. 1842 Whitman works as an editor for New York City’s Aurora and publishes Franklin Evans: The inebriate
  • Locofoco Party In U.S. history,the locofocos were a radical wing of the Democratic Party, organized in New York City in 1835. Made up primarily of workingmen and reformers, the Locofocos were opposed to state banks, monopolies, paper money, tariffs, and generally any financial policies that seemed to themantidemocratic and conducive to special privilege. The Locofocos received their name (which was later derisively applied by political opponents to all Democrats) when party regulars in New York turned off the gas lights to oust the radicals from a Tammany Hall nominating meeting.The radicals responded by lighting candles with the new self-igniting friction matches known as locofocos, and proceeded to nominate their own slate.
  • Whitman loved the bel canto style of opera. Bel canto consists of long passages of simple melody alternating with outbursts of elaborate vocal scrollwork, which turns the voice into a complex wind instrument. The desired effect was to heighten the dramatic meaning and significance of the words through attention to pitch, dynamics, melody, and rhythm. This highly emotional and intense use of the human voice was in Whitman’s view the highest form of art. His favorite singer: Marietta Alboni (in NY 1852-1853). Her work influenced the aria of the mockingbird in “Out of the Cradle endlessly Rocking” and the carol of the hermit thrush in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” These 2 poems employ a recitative-aria structured modeled on Italian operatic style. ( WW Enchclopedia 485).
  • “ Look at Emerson: he was not only possibly the greatest of our land, our time, but great with the greatness of any land, any time, all worlds.” Whitman had read Emerson’s Nature and the “Divinity School Address,” and he had attended lectures by the philosopher/poet in New York. Emerson visited Whitman in December 1855 and sent Alcott and Thoreau later, in 1856. Transcendentalism belief in the essential unity of all creation, the innate goodness of man, and the supremacy of insight over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths.. Eclectic and cosmopolitan in its sources and part of the Romantic movement, New England Transcendentalism originated in the area around Concord,Mass., and from 1830 to 1855 represented a battle between the younger and older generations and the emergence of a new national culture based on native materials.
  • First edition wasn’t signed, although the author’s name became known from an early verse. Draws from Sara Payson Willis Parton’s Fanny Fern, Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio.
  • Whitman had many themes in his poetry; these are only a few. For example, in section 48 of “Song of Myself”: I have said that the sould is not more than the body And I have said that the body is not more than the soul, And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is, And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud … . And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.
  • Use of varying line lengths with varying numbers of syllables per line. Critic Gay Wilson Allen identified the Whitman "envelope": a short beginning line, long middle lines, and a short ending line. Where the mockingbird sounds his delicious gurgles, and cackles and screams and weeps, Where the hay-rick stands in the barnyard, and the dry-stalks are scattered, and the brood cow waits in the hovel, Where the bull advances to do his masculine work, and the stud to the mare, and the cock is treading the hen, Where the heifers browse, and the geese nip their food with short jerks; Where the sundown shadows lengthen over the limitless and lonesome prairie, Where the herds of buffalo make a crawling spread of the square miles far and near; Where the hummingbird shimmers . . . . where the neck of the longlived swan is curving and winding Where the laughing-gull scoots by the slappy shore and laughs her near-human laugh;
  • After his brother is wounded at Fredericksburg in 1862, Whitman goes to Washington to take care of him and stays on to visit the wounded in the Washington hospitals. One of the first sights that greets him is a pile of amputated legs and arms, for the .58 caliber Minie balls or bullets, fired at slow velocity, resulted in shattered bones and gaping wounds and infections. Whitman visits the wounded every day for several years, until his health breaks down. He writes letters, reads to the men, brings them goodies--tobacco, which he doesn’t use himself, fruit, brandy--and lifts their spirits. Whitman’s experiences in New York with helping hurt stage and wagon drivers was helpful. During this time, he met Peter Doyle, to whom he became close for a period of several years.
  • Whitman saw Lincoln often and regarded him as a great leader of the country. Lincoln’s assassination plunged the poet, like the rest of the nation, into a numbing grief, and Whitman’s elegies to Lincoln are among his best-known work. O Captain, My Captain, is uncharacteristically conventional in form. Whitman said later that he was sorry that he wrote it, since it was a popular favorite and not at all characteristic of his verse. “ When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d” is one of his great poems. It uses images of sight--the evening star--of sound,--the mournful thrush--and of smell--the lilacs--to memorialize the Western leader and mourn his passing.
  • The cause of death was mostly old age: Whitman’s lungs had collapsed, although he had suffered health problems for several years since his stroke in 1873. This was the man, who, as he says in Song of Myself, I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. The song of myself begins with “I,” but it ends with “you.”
  • Information has been derived from these sources: Allen, Gay Wilson. A reader's guide to Walt Whitman . (1970) Kreig, Joanne P. A Whitman Chronology. U of Iowa P, 1998. Loving, Jerome. Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. ---. Whitman in his own time : a biographical chronicle of his life, drawn from recollections, memoirs, and interviews by friends and associates (1991). Reynolds, David. Walt Whitman: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995. Price, Kenneth, ed. Walt Whitman : the contemporary reviews . Cambridge U P, 1996. Zweig, Paul. Walt Whitman: The Making of the Poet . Basic Books, 1984. This presentation was originally created to accompany a lecture and is used my American literature classes. It is used for non-commercial, educational purposes only.
  • Waltwhitman

    1. 1. Walt Whitman America’s Poet Donna Campbell, Dept. of English, Washington State University
    2. 2. <ul><li>Born 31 May 1819 near Huntington, Long Island, New York </li></ul><ul><li>Second child (of 8) Was a printer’s apprentice (to 1835) and a schoolteacher. </li></ul>
    3. 3. The Journalist, 1844 <ul><li>Worked for several different newspapers </li></ul><ul><li>Wrote short fiction from 1841-1848 </li></ul><ul><li>Themes and techniques borrowed from Poe and Hawthorne </li></ul>
    4. 4. The Brooklyn Eagle <ul><li>1846-1848. Became chief editor of the Brooklyn Eagle. </li></ul><ul><li>Whitman was fired because his politics conflict with those of the publisher. </li></ul>
    5. 5. Influences: Literature and Music <ul><li>Italian opera: “Were it not for the opera, I could never have written Leaves of Grass.” </li></ul><ul><li>Shakespeare </li></ul><ul><li>The Bible </li></ul>
    6. 6. Emerson <ul><li>Emerson helped Whitman to “find himself”: “I was simmering, simmering; Emerson brought me to a boil.” </li></ul>
    7. 7. Leaves of Grass, 1855 <ul><li>Twelve poems, including </li></ul><ul><li>“ Song of Myself” </li></ul><ul><li>“ I Sing the Body Electric” </li></ul><ul><li>“ The Sleepers” </li></ul><ul><li>Only 795 copies printed </li></ul><ul><li>Family tradition says that Whitman set some of the type for this edition. </li></ul>
    8. 8. Whitman’s Themes <ul><li>Imaginative projection into others’ lives </li></ul><ul><li>Optimistic faith in democracy and equality </li></ul><ul><li>Belief in nature and its value as a teacher </li></ul>
    9. 9. Whitman’s Poetic Techniques <ul><li>Free verse: lack of metrical regularity and conventional rhyme </li></ul><ul><li>Use of repeated images, symbols, phrases, and grammatical units </li></ul><ul><li>Use of catalogs </li></ul><ul><li>Contrast and parallelism in paired lines </li></ul>
    10. 10. Whitman’s Use of Language <ul><li>Idiosyncratic spelling and punctuation. </li></ul><ul><li>Words used for their sounds as much as their sense; foreign languages </li></ul><ul><li>Businesses and professions, such as carpentry </li></ul><ul><li>Military and war terms; nautical terms </li></ul>
    11. 11. <ul><li>After his brother is wounded at Fredericksburg (1862), Whitman goes to Washington to care for him and stays for nearly 3 years, visiting the wounded, writing letters, and keeping up their spirits. </li></ul>Civil War
    12. 12. Whitman and Lincoln <ul><li>Whitman saw Lincoln often, but the two never met face to face. </li></ul><ul><li>“ When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d” </li></ul><ul><li>“ O Captain, My Captain” </li></ul>
    13. 13. The Poet at Home <ul><li>Whitman died on 26 March 1892 at about 6:30 p.m. and is buried in the tomb that he had designed. </li></ul>
    14. 14. Credits <ul><li>Sources are given in the notes section of the slides except as noted in the notes below. </li></ul><ul><li>Pictures are courtesy of the Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive at the University of Virginia: http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/whitman/ </li></ul>