Walt Whitman was a poet who is considered among the greatest figures in American literature. Whitman wrote many famous poems and his poetry collection Leaves of Grass in among the most important works written by an American. Here are 10 interesting facts about Walt Whitman who revolutionized poetry and is known as the Father of Free Verse.
#1 HIS BROTHERS WERE NAMED AFTER PRESIDENTS
Born on May 31, 1819 in New York, Walter Whitman was the second of nine children of Walter and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. He was immediately nicknamed Walt to distinguish him from his father. Walt’s parents showed their admiration for their country by naming three of his brothers – George Washington Whitman, Thomas Jefferson Whitman, and Andrew Jackson Whitman.
#2 WHITMAN HAD TO LEAVE SCHOOL WHEN HE WAS 11
Due to the difficult financial status of his family, Walt was pulled out of school when he was 11 and he helped his family by getting employed first as an office boy and then in the printing business. Though largely self-taught he was a voracious reader. In 1836, at the age of 17, Whitman turned to teaching. He worked as a teacher till 1841 all the while also pursuing his interest in journalism. Post 1841 he made journalism his full-time career.
#3 HE FOUNDed LONG ISLANDER AND BROOKLYN WEEKLY FREEMAN
In 1838-39, Whitman took a break from teaching and found his own newspaper Long Islander. He served as its publisher, editor, pressman and distributor for ten months after which he sold the publication to E. O. Crowell. In 1848, Whitman founded another newspaper entitled the Brooklyn Freeman. Though Brooklyn Freeman didn’t survive Long Islander News is still active today.
#4 WHITMAN WAS A RADICAL EDITOR
In his journalism career Whitman worked for many newspapers. He became the editor of several prominent newspapers including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He was a radical editor and raised and supported controversial issues, often against the wish of his boss. Due to this Whitman had to change papers frequently and there was a four year stretch in which he was ousted from as many as seven newspapers.
#5 HE KEPT WORKING ON LEAVES OF GRASS THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE
In 1855, Whitman published his collection of 12 poems titled Leaves of Grass. He paid for the first publication and could afford to print only 795 copies. The book received strong praise from famous American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and partly due to this the collection stirred significant interest. Throughout his life Whitman kept working on Leaves of Grass and by the time of his death it became a compilation of more than 400 poems. The collection is one of the most famous works in American literature.
#6 AT FIRST, LEAVES OF GRASS WAS CONSIDERED OBSCENE
Leaves of Grass caused a stir initially because of its frank sexual themes with many critics calling it profane and obscene. In it Whitman discusses delight in sensual pleasures at a time when it was considered immoral. Apart from its radical nature, the book is notable for praising nature and the individual’s role in it. It also marked a radical departure from established poetic norms like rhyme and meter.
#7 HE WORKED AS A NURSE DURING AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
New York Tribune published a list of dead and wounded soldiers during the American Civil War which contained the name “First Lieutenant G. W. Whitmore“. Worried that it might be his brother George, Whitman rushed south but was relieved to find his brother alive with only minor wounds. Walt was profoundly affected by seeing the wounded soldiers and volunteered to work as a nurse in the army hospitals.
#8 HE WAS PROBABLY HOMOSEXUAL OR BISEXUAL
Walt Whitman’s sexual orientation is usually considered as homosexual or bisexual. This assumption is based on his poetry as well intense friendships with several boys and men throughout his life. Some biographers cite his correspondence with some of his male friends and his journal entries as proof that he was a homosexual however it has not been established certainly and it can’t be said for sure that he had actual sexual experiences with men.
#9 HIS MOST FAMOUS POEM IS SONG OF MYSELF
Whitman has written many famous poems including ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ which refers to Abraham Lincoln as captain of America’s ship; ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’ which is an elegy after Lincoln’s death; and ‘I Hear America Singing’ which expresses his love for America. His most famous poem is ‘Song of Myself‘ which also serves as his biography. It is among the most acclaimed and influential poems written by an American.
#10 He WAS BURIED IN A TOMB WHICH HE DESIGNED
Whitman died on March 26, 1892. He was buried in a self-designed and self-built tomb in Harleigh Cemetery. Along with Emily Dickinson, he is considered America’s most important poet. Walt Whitman is referred to as “bard of democracy” and “father of free verse”. Several places have been named after him including the Walt Whitman Bridge in Camden County, New Jersey, United States.