Biography of Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman, the son of Walter Whitman, a house-builder, and Louisa Van Velsor, was born on May 31, 1819. The family consisted of nine children and lived in Brooklyn and Long Island in the 1820s and 1830s.
At the age of twelve, Whitman began the printers trade and fell in love with literature. He was largely self-taught and read voraciously. Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and the Bible were a few of his favorite works.
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Whitman continued as a printer until 1836 when a fire demolished his industry. From there, he would begin his career as a teacher in a one-room school in Long Island.
In 1841, Whitman left teaching and turned to journalism as a full-time career. He founded the Long Islander, a weekly newspaper, and later edited several Brooklyn and New York papers.
Whitman left the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1848 to become editor of the New Orleans paper Daily Crescent. While in New Orleans he witnessed first hand the horridness of slavery.
During the fall of 1848, Whitman returned to Brooklyn to publish the Brooklyn Freeman, a free soil newspaper. There he would continue to refine and develop his unique style of writing.
In 1855, Whitman published his first edition of Leaves of Grass which consisted of twelve untitled poems and a preface. He published the volume himself and sent a copy to Ralph Waldo Emerson who in turn sent Whitman a letter praising "I greet you at the beginning of a great career.".
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Whitman then continued to refine the volume and published several more editions containing even more poetry.
At the start of the Civil War, Whitman swore to live a cleansed life. He began writing freelance journalism and visited the wounded in the New York area hospitals. And in December of 1862 he traveled to Washington, D.C. to care for his wounded brother.
For eleven years Whitman stayed in Washington to care for the wounded and work in hospitals. After, he worked as a clerk for the Department of the Interior until James Harlan, the Secretary of the Interior, discovered Whitman was the author of Leaves of Grass and fired him.
In the early 1870s, Whitman traveled to Camden, where he would stay with his dying mother at his brother's house. He suffered a stroke soon after and found it impossible to return to Washington.
Whitman stayed with his brother until 1882, when the publication of Leaves of Grass gave him enough money to buy a home in Camden.
At his home, he spent his final years working on revising a new edition of Leaves of Grass and working on his final volume of poems and prose, Good-Bye, My Fancy (1891).
On March 26, 1892 Whitman died due to pneumonia and was buried in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey.
For most of his life, Whitman lived in poverty. The small income he did have went to his patients at the hospital and to his ailing mother and invalid brother. Often writers from both the United States and Britain would send him purses of cash so he could continue writing and helping his family.
Poems by Walt Whitman
- A Noiseless Patient Spider
- Adieu To a Soldier
- Among the Multitude
- An Old Man's Thought of School
- As If a Phantom Caress'd Me
- Beat! Beat! Drums!
- By the Bivouac's Fitful Flame
- Cavalry Crossing a Ford
- Fast Anchor'd Eternal O Love!
- For Him I Sing
- I Hear America Singing
- I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing
- I Sit and Look Out
- My Picture-Gallery
- O Captain! My Captain!
- On the Beach at Night
- Once I Pass'd Through a Populous City
- One's-Self I Sing
- Sometimes with One I Love
- To a Locomotive in Winter
- To a Stranger
- To Foreign Lands
- To You
- The Untold Want
- When I Heard at the Close of the Day
- When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer