Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Walt Whitman revolutionized American poetry. Whitman challenged conventions of the time. He is a radical poet because of two things:

  1. Form
  2. Content

Father of modern poetry. Known for his free verse. He was not the first to use free verse, but the one who made it acceptable.

Free Verse:  is an open form of poetry. It does not use consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any other musical pattern. Many poems composed in free verse thus tend to follow the rhythm of natural speech.

He took up Emerson’s call in “The Poet” 1842 for an American bard who would address all the facets of America (1005).

Whitman was not only “absorbed by his own country but remains a persistent presence in poetry throughout the world” ( 1006).

Preface to 1855 Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grass is Walt Whitman’s book of poetry, first published in 1855. He published six editions during his lifetime. He revised, expanded, and tinkered with the book to reflect the changes taking place in American culture and himself.

The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem (1009).

Walt Whitman is the great visionary. He was the first person to say America is the greatest nation.

Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations (1010).

What makes us great is that we are made up of immigrants. We are a growing and evolving nation. This is what makes us the greatest nation.

. . . but the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, not in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always most in the common people (1010).

He continues and argues that he could only write this because he is an American.

Lyndon B. Johnson

John F. Kennedy

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Song of Myself