Walt Whitman By Kaitlin Barton
A Few Facts About Walt… • Born May 31, 1819 • Born on Long Island • Son of Walt Whitman Sr. • Worked: • Newspapers: editor and journalist • School teacher • Indian Bureau • Writer • Died March 26, 1892
Temperance Movement • Whitman was a supporter of the temperance movement, particularly in the 1840’s. • Wrote Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate, a novel about a country boy who became a drinker when he moved to a city and ended up killing three women.
Temperance continued… • He also wrote two other tales about excessive drinking: “Wild Frank’s Return” and “The Child’s Champion”. • His thoughts about alcohol abuse continue throughout his poetry.
Slavery • In addition to alcohol abuse, Whitman was also against slavery. • He feared that slavery was against the interest of the white working class. • His fears of slavery echoed today’s common fear of illegal immigrants taking up U.S. jobs and messing up salaries.
Slavery Continued: Walt’s Later Thoughts on Slavery “Whitman never forgot the experience of seeing humans on the selling block, and he kept a poster of a slave auction hanging in his room for many years as a reminder that such dehumanizing events occurred regularly in the United States.” -Folsom and Price
Slavery: Why the Change? • Some people believe his thoughts about slavery changed after his experiences down south to New Orleans. He really got to see how slaves were treated. • Some also think it was encouraged by radical thinkers and writers that he met and befriended.
Walt’s other causes • Walt addressed many problems of America in the time he lived in… • Ex: • Education • Prostitution • Immigration • Democracy • Homosexuality (supported)
Democracy • Walt tried to sooth fears of democracy not surviving and promoted it in his poetry. • He saw it as a way of living, not just a political system. • Whitman saw it as “a way of interpersonal interaction and a way for individuals to integrate their beliefs into their everyday lives”. • Whitman also thought that democracy must include everyone equally or it would not work.
Native Americans • Began work in the Indian Bureau • Met various Indian tribes • Included poems about Indians • Whitman was concerned about the loss of native cultures
Whitman and Women • Whitman’s poetry was particularly pleasing to women. • They were pleased by the fact that he spoke of equality with men.
Whitman: Radical v. Subtle • Whitman avoided supporting his cause in radical ways. • Instead, he continued political efforts through a more subtle means: poetry.
Walt’s Hopes • Whitman hoped that his poetry would circulate through heaps of ordinary Americans • He hoped to change the masses’ way of thinking with his experimental poems.
Goals: Leaves of Grass • To send out an optimistic image for future America.
Leaves of Grass • Combined poetry, journalism, and the Bible. • Poetry spoke of all of Whitman’s concerns of social issues • Contained new, experimental verse • Very cultural: included lingo, politics, new technology and science, and the developing American language • Revised many times, with different additions
Civil War • Once the Civil War began, Walt made a habit of visiting sick and injured soldiers. • His own brother, George, had enlisted. • Helped to nurse the soldiers, collected their stories, gave them gifts, wrote letters for them, comforted and cheered them, etc. • Taught Whitman about the size and diversity of America.
Civil War and Reconstruction • Whitman’s hopes of a whole union that could withstand and embrace the pressures of diversity seemed threatened by the Civil War • Whitman continued pursuing his ideal America even after the Civil War through his writing. • Whitman saw some hope in baseball. He thought the new sport could help reunify the nation. • Walt was saddened by the lack of attention to the common soldier after the war.
Civil War and Reconstruction continued • Inspired him to write new works: • Drum-Taps • Memoranda During the War • Drum-Taps was a book of poetry about the Civil War • Memoranda During the War consisted of Walt’s experiences nursing soldiers during the war. • He later added Sequel to Drum-Taps, which included poems about Lincoln’s death.
Did he succeed? Although his poetry and other works didn’t have a profound effect on the social issues he wrote about, he did influence others’ thinking, something he had intended. His poetry also majorly impacted later poets and modern poetry. Some say that he helped free American poetry.
Bibliography • Whitman, Walt. "Ashes of Roses." The Walt Whitman Archive. Ed. Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. 15 February 2007 <http://www.whitmanarchive.org>. • (All quotes are taken from the above source) • SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Whitman’s Poetry.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. • Petri Liukkonen. “Walt(er) Whitman”. Books and Writers. Amazon.com. 2008. Accessed 15 Nov. 2009. <http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/wwhitman.htm>