Walt Whitman is among the most influential poets in the United States, frequently called the father of free verse. He was a part of the shift from transcendentalism toward realism, and his expressions are well portrayed in his works.
In addition, along with Emily Dickinson, he is regarded as one of America’s most significant 19th-century poets.
Here are 25 cool and interesting facts about Walt Whitman:
#1 He was born on May 31, 1819, in a village near Hempstead in Long Island, New York, in the newly formed US. He was named after his father, a farmer and carpenter who was 34 years old when he was born. His father named 3 of his 7 sons after American leaders – George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Thomas Jefferson.
#2 He had 8 sisters and brothers and was the 2nd child born. His childhood was not a happy one and was raised during financial problems in his family.
#3 After finishing formal schooling, in 1830, he began learning the printer’s trade at age 12 and developed a deep affection towards reading.
#4 For approximately 5 years, beginning in 1836, he was a teacher in the school of Long Island. During this time he also founded the weekly newspaper Long-Islander. In 1840, he had his 1st novel published and a few short stories. He continued to teach until 1841 when he turned to journalism as a full-time career.
#5 In 1848, he left New York for New Orleans, where he became editor of the Crescent. However, he had to quit the Crescent do to his moderate antislavery views.
Leaves of Grass
#6 In early 1850, he begins to write Leaves of Grass and would continue this collection of poetry editing it and revising it numerous times.
#7 It was originally released as a collection of just 12 poems but ended up being a collection of over 400. Moreover, it was meant to be sort of an all-inclusive American version of the Bible, that’s why it was arranged into verses and chapters. This remarkable work was considered a controversial one because of its obscene description.
#8 In 1856, he released the second edition of Leaves of Grass in which he included “Sundown Poem,” better known as “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” one of his most beloved pieces.
#9 In 1860, he published the third edition of Leaves of Grass that was brought out by a Boston publisher. This edition was one of the few times in his career when he did not have to publish at his own expense.
#10 In 1867, Leaves of Grass was revised and re-released several more times (apart from the poems collected in Drum-Taps) throughout the remainder of his life.
#11 In 1852, Whitman serialized a novel entitled Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: An Auto-Biography.
#12 In 1861, after the outbreak of the Civil War, his brother was wounded at Fredericksburg. In 1862, Walt went there and stayed for some time in the camp. Furthermore, he took a temporary post in the paymaster’s office in Washington.
#13 In 1865, president Lincoln was assassinated. This event moved him profoundly, and a few poems bear testimony of his intense grief.
#14 He worked at the United States Attorney General’s office in the Department of Justice right after the Civil War. His job there was to interview former Confederate soldiers for Presidential pardons.
#15 He never married and likely had a bisexual or homosexual orientation, nevertheless, his biographers disagree on whether or not he had relationships with men.
#16 He was notably influenced by Deism (a philosophical position that posits that a God does not interfere directly with the world). However, in his writings, he hinted that all religions were good, but he himself did not follow one particular organized religion.
#17 He embraced emotion and intuition over rationality and became an important contributor to the genre of writing known as ”transcendentalism,” a spiritual belief that the divine spirit resides in the inherent goodness of nature and within all of us.
#18 His personal habits were such that he wrote and collected his notes in an unsystematic and casual manner, entrusting his thoughts to scraps of paper, be it the verso of a letter or the back of a used envelope.
#19 He was considered controversial and eccentric through much of his career, however, by the end of his life he was commonly known as “America’s good gray poet.”
#20 In 1873, he suffered 2 major blows when he lost his mother to heart disease and then had a paralytic stroke.
#21 After he suffered the paralytic stroke, he lived in a semi-invalid state and moved to Camden, New Jersey.
#22 He died at age 72. Interestingly, his poetry became more successful after his death.
#23 The Walt Whitman Bridge, that crosses the Delaware River near his home in Camden, was opened on May 16, 1957.
#24 He was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2009.
#25 He was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display, in 2013.