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Walt Whitman as a Democratic Symbol


Walt Whitman was a poet that changed it all for the field of poetry across the United States and beyond its borders. He did not identify himself with any other poet while also conveying the idea that an ideal poet should never stay above anyone else. Walt Whitman’s audacity is what made him one of the least critically acclaimed poets of his time, but this contradictory poetic style ultimately became Whitman’s trademark.

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Personal Life

Walt Whitman was born in West Hills, New York, on May 31, 1819. He was the son of Louisa Van Velsor and a house builder named Walter Whitman (Folsom and Price 1). The future poet’s family consisted of nine children, with Whitman later starting to attend the Brooklyn public schools. Approximately at the age of 12, Whitman started practicing the written word due to his close relationship with the printer’s trade.


Accordingly, Whitman started his career as a printer, but the printing district soon suffered from a devastating fire that practically killed the industry. At the age of 17, Whitman became a teacher but soon turned to journalism, as it appealed to him much more than any other profession (Loving 147). One of the most important milestones in Whitman’s career was his own weekly newspaper called The Long-Islander.

Significant Works

The most significant work in Whitman’s poetry career is the Leaves of Grass collection which produced a total of nine editions over the poet’s life. With the help of it, according to Blake, Whitman was able to prove poetry’s “superiority to other forms of discourse,” as he was rather convincing and unorthodox (175). All of the poems were structured as free-verse, which added even more polemic to Whitman’s works.

Contribution to Literature

Speaking of Whitman’s overall contribution to poetry, it may be safe to say that he was an innovator that would never be afraid of experimenting. In the words of Greenspan, the American genius of free verse was either “the most lamentable of failures or the most glorious of triumphs,” highlighting Whitman’s controversial style (100). Even the new generations of Americans seem to be fascinated by Whitman’s works, so the poet’s status as a democratic symbol cannot be disputed as well.

Works Cited

Blake, David Haven. Walt Whitman and the Culture of American Celebrity. Yale University Press, 2008.

Folsom, Ed, and Kenneth M. Price. Re-Scripting Walt Whitman: An Introduction to His Life and Work. John Wiley & Sons, 2008.

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Greenspan, Ezra. Walt Whitman and the American Reader. Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Loving, Jerome. Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself. University of California Press, 2000.

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