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Analysis:             Poet's Biography

Walt Whitman (1819–1892) stands as one of the most important and revolutionary figures in American poetry. His work has not only had a lasting impact on the poetic form but also on the way Americans understand themselves, their history, and their collective identity.

Literary Background and Early Influences:

Born in West Hills, New York, Whitman grew up in a large family and had little formal education. He was deeply influenced by the transcendentalist movement, particularly the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson’s essay "The Poet" seems to have provided Whitman with a kind of blueprint for what he aimed to achieve. Whitman began his career as a journalist and was deeply engaged with social issues, including slavery and the impending Civil War, which would later become key themes in his poetry.

Poetic Schools and Movements:

Whitman is most closely associated with the transcendentalist movement, although his style and themes eventually diverged from it in significant ways. He is also considered a precursor to modernist poetry, breaking with traditional European forms and metrics. Whitman employed free verse in a way that was revolutionary at the time, relying on the rhythms of natural speech rather than established poetic forms.

Phases and Themes in Poetic Oeuvre:

*Early Phase: Whitman’s early work was conventional in form, but his groundbreaking collection "Leaves of Grass" (1855) heralded a new era in American poetry. The book was self-published, and Whitman continued to revise it throughout his life. This collection introduced the world to "Song of Myself," a sprawling, ambitious poem that attempted to contain the multitudes of American life.

*Civil War Phase: Whitman’s experiences as a volunteer nurse during the Civil War deeply impacted him and influenced his subsequent work. "Drum-Taps" (1865) and its later annex "Sequel to Drum-Taps" provide some of his most harrowing and humane works, focusing on the suffering and dignity of the common soldier.

*Later Phase: In his later years, Whitman wrote several more personal poems, including those collected in "Good-bye My Fancy" (1891). These works were more introspective and dealt with themes of mortality and legacy.


Whitman’s influence on American poetry is incalculable. Almost every American poet who came after him had to grapple in some way with his legacy. Whitman’s free verse and focus on everyday life and common people influenced poets from Emily Dickinson to Langston Hughes to Allen Ginsberg. Internationally, his work had an impact on a wide range of poets including Gabriel Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda.


During his lifetime, Whitman faced censorship and was often criticized for the sexual themes and unconventional style in "Leaves of Grass." However, he was also praised for his originality and boldness. While formal recognition like prizes eluded him during his life, his impact has been acknowledged through numerous posthumous honors, including having his work studied and revered worldwide.


Walt Whitman’s work is an ambitious attempt to capture the vast complexities of American life during a time of intense social and political upheaval. His use of free verse broke sharply from tradition, liberating American poetry from its European roots. Whitman's expansive, inclusive vision of humanity has made him a cornerstone of American literature, one whose influence continues to be felt more than a century after his death.

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