It is important to note that Walt Whitman is among the most well-known and influential American poets. His life began with his birth in West Hills, New York, on May 31, 1819, and during his adolescent years, he studied and read Bible, Shakespeare, Dante, and Homer. As a boy, he was working in a printing field in NYC, and from 1836 to 1841, Whitman worked as a teacher in Long Island (“Walt Whitman,” n.d.).
In regards to the poet’s adult life, from 1841, Whitman became a professional journalist. The poet founded and was an invaluable member of newspapers, such as Brooklyn Freeman, Crescent, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and The Long-Islander. Subsequently, in 1855, Whitman published his most important work, Leaves of Grass. He passed away on March 26, 1892, in Camden, New Jersey (“Walt Whitman,” n.d.).
These are Whitman’s most prominent poems, which include Song of Myself, A Woman Waits for Me, Long, Too Long America, There was a child went forth every day, When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer, A Noiseless Patient Spider, When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d, When I Read the Book, and many other writings (“Walt Whitman,” n.d.).
The first work of Whitman is A Woman Waits for Me written in 1891. The key themes are life, unity, desire, passion, and the sexual bond between man and woman. It is important to note that obscenities are prevalent within the poem. The four examples demonstrated below are related to the process of sexual intercourse as an essential component of love, unity, and life.
“Yet all were lacking if sex were lacking, or if the moisture of the right man were lacking” (“A Woman Waits for Me,” n.d.).
“Sex contains all, bodies, souls, meanings, proofs, purities, delicacies, results, promulgations, Songs, commands, health, pride, the maternal mystery, the seminal milk” (“A Woman Waits for Me,” n.d.).
“Without shame, the man I like knows and avows the deliciousness of his sex” (“A Woman Waits for Me,” n.d.).
“I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for these States, I press with slow rude muscle” (“A Woman Waits for Me,” n.d.).
The second poem is Song of Myself, 52 written in 1891. The core themes of the poem are love, self-transcendence, empathy, and the end of the journey. In the case of the theme of the end of his journey, Whitman proclaims that he is ending his long poem and feeling that his life is coming to end.
“I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags” (“Song of Myself, 52,” n.d.).
In regards to the love theme, the author expresses his all-encompassing love for all things.
“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles” (“Song of Myself, 52,” n.d.).
In the case of the empathy theme, the poet expresses his empathetic nature by looking at himself from the hawk’s perspective and comparing himself to it.
“The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering. I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable” (“Song of Myself, 52,” n.d.).
In the case of the self-transcendence theme, Whitman shows this notion by stating that he will remain an integral part of the world even after his death.
“You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, but I shall be good health to you nevertheless, and filter and fibre your blood” (“Song of Myself, 52,” n.d.).
Whitman & Ralph Emerson
One should be aware that Ralph Emerson played an important role in helping Whitman develop as a poet. The relationship and link between Whitman and Ralph Emerson are manifested in the fact that both advocated for transcendentalism. The given movement or philosophy revolves around nature’s divinity, idealism, and individualism. It is important to note that Whitman’s poems were highly inspired by Ralph Emerson’s writings. After publishing Leaves of Grass on July 4, 1855, the work was met with harsh criticisms. Ralph Emerson’s letter of praise to Whitman saved the latter’s career and gave him the confidence to pursue his dream of writing poetry.
In conclusion, Whitman’s works and literary contributions shaped the scope and direction of American literature. The poet became a father of a poetry writing style called free verse, and he actively advocated for the key and central values of realism and transcendentalism. His poems became a manifestation of democracy in poetry, which reflects the freedom of thought and expression.