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The title “America’s Poet” is often applied to Whitman.
Parents were Deists but with a Quaker background.  Whtiman’s father had long been a follower of Thomas Paine Radical  Quakerism of Elizas Hicks--anti-institutional, placing much emphasis on the inner light.
Emanuel Swedenborg.
Although the family moved to Brooklyn when Whitman was 4 and he lived there and in New York and Washington for much of his life, he often drew on Long Island and its seashore--calling the island Paumonok, the Native American name for the place--in poems such as “Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking.”
In 1838-9, Whitman founds and publishes The Long Islander; writes for the Long Island Democrat. 1842 Whitman works as an editor for New York City’s Aurora and publishes Franklin Evans: The inebriate
Locofoco Party
In U.S. history,the locofocos were a radical wing of the Democratic Party, organized in New York City in 1835. Made up primarily of workingmen and reformers, the Locofocos were opposed to state banks, monopolies, paper money, tariffs, and generally any financial policies that seemed to themantidemocratic and conducive to special privilege. The Locofocos received their name (which was later derisively applied by political opponents to all Democrats) when party regulars in New York turned off the gas lights to oust the radicals from a Tammany Hall nominating meeting.The radicals responded by lighting candles with the new self-igniting friction matches known as locofocos, and proceeded to nominate their own slate.
Whitman loved the bel canto style of opera.  Bel canto consists of long passages of simple melody alternating with outbursts of elaborate vocal scrollwork, which turns the voice into a complex wind instrument.  The desired effect was to heighten the dramatic meaning and significance of the words through attention to pitch, dynamics, melody, and rhythm.  This highly emotional and intense use of the human voice was in Whitman’s view the highest form of art. His favorite singer: Marietta Alboni (in NY 1852-1853). Her work influenced the aria of the mockingbird in “Out of the Cradle endlessly Rocking” and the carol of the hermit thrush in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” These 2 poems employ a recitative-aria structured modeled on Italian operatic style. (WW Enchclopedia 485).
“Look at Emerson: he was not only possibly the greatest of our land, our time, but great with the greatness of any land, any time, all worlds.”
Whitman had read Emerson’s Nature and the “Divinity School Address,” and he had attended lectures by the philosopher/poet in New  York.  Emerson visited Whitman in December 1855 and sent Alcott and Thoreau later, in 1856. Transcendentalism belief in the essential unity of all creation, the innate goodness of man, and the supremacy of insight over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths.. Eclectic and cosmopolitan in its sources and part of the Romantic movement, New England Transcendentalism originated in the area around Concord,Mass., and from 1830 to 1855 represented a battle between the younger and older generations and the emergence of a new national culture based on native materials.
Whitman on Poe: “I have seen Poe--met him: he impressed me very favorably; was dark, quiet, handsome--southern from top to toe: languid, tired out, it is true, but altogether ingratiating.” (Traubel, from Whitman in his Own Time, 252)
Alcott and Thoreau visited Whitman in 1856
Alcott: Ocotber 4, 1856.  I have been to see Walt Whitman. . . A nondescript, he is not so easily described, nor seen to be sudescribed.  Broad-shouldered, rouge-fleshed, Bacchus-browed, bearded like a satyr, and rank, he wears his man-Bloomer in defiance of everybody, having these as everything else after his own fashion, and for example to all men hereafter.  Red flannel undershirt, open-breasted, exposing his brawny neck; striped calico jacket over this, the collar Byroneal, with coarse cloth overalls buttoned to it; cowhide boots; a heavy round-about, with huge outside pockets and buttons to match; and a slouched hat, for house and street alike.  Eyes gray, unimaginative, cautious yet sagacious; his voice deep, sharp, tender sometimes and almost melting.  When talking will recline upon the couch at length, pillowing his head upon his bended arm, and informing you naively how lazy he is, and slow.  Listens well. … He has never been sick, he says, nor taken medicine, nor sinned, and so is quite innocent of repentance and man’s fall. Bet, 1859-62, Whitman was often at Pfaff’s, a gathering spot for New York Bohemians who disdained bourgeois conventions. His “Out of the Cradle” was first published in publisher Henry Clapp’s weekly Saturday Press.
Whitman and Phrenology
July 16, 1849.  Whitman visits the busy phrenological emporium of Fowler and Wells to literally have his head examined.  A nineteenth-century “science” that has long been discredited, phrenology sought to identify traits of character by the bumps and depressions on a human skull, with each area corresponding to a particular trait such as conscientiousness, destructiveness, mirthfulness, intellectual faculties, benevolence, and so forth.  Whitman’s analysis pleased him so much that he reprinted parts of it in several editions of Leaves of Grass: This man has a grand physical construction, and power to live to a good old age.  He is undoubtedly descended from the soundest and hardiest stock.  Size of head large.  Leading traits of character appear to be Friendship, Sympathy, Sublimity and Self-Esteem, and markedly among his combinations the dangerous faults of Indolence, a tendency to the pleasure of Voluptuousness and Alimentiveness, and a certain reckless swing of animal will, too unmindful, probably, of the conviction of others. Whitman would use the phrenological principles of “amativeness” (love of women) and “adhesiveness” (love of men) to characterize sections of Leaves of Grass.
In a section of Song of Myself
All this I swallow and it tastes good . . . . I like it well, and it becomes mine, 
                   I am the man . . . . I suffered . . . . I was there.
I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of dogs . . .
He tells of the massacre at Goliad and of other battles.
First edition wasn’t signed, although the author’s name became known from an early verse. Draws from Sara Payson Willis Parton’s Fanny Fern, Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio.
Whitman had many themes in his poetry; these are only a few.
For example, in section 48 of “Song of Myself”:
I have said that the sould is not more than the body
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.
Use of varying line lengths with varying numbers of syllables per line. Critic Gay Wilson Allen identified the Whitman "envelope": a short beginning line, long middle lines, and a short ending line.
Where the mockingbird sounds his delicious gurgles, and cackles and screams and  weeps,    Where the hay-rick stands in the barnyard, and the dry-stalks are scattered, and the   brood cow waits in the hovel,  Where the bull advances to do his masculine work, and the stud to the mare, and the   cock is treading the hen,      Where the heifers browse, and the geese nip their food with short jerks;                                                                 Where the sundown shadows lengthen over the limitless and lonesome prairie,  Where the herds of buffalo make a crawling spread of the square miles far and    near;  Where the hummingbird shimmers . . . . where the neck of the longlived swan is   curving and winding
Where the laughing-gull scoots by the slappy shore and laughs her near-human 
Note the word use (alliteration--slappy shore), repetition of Where, long lines, parallel structures.
Well baptized: fresh, hardy, and grown for the masses. Walt Whitman, the world needed a "Native American" of thorough, out and out breed . . .  who dared speak out his strong,honest thoughts, in the face of pusillanimous, toadeying, republican aristocracy. . . .
This is but a rough sketch of the versions of Leaves of Grass.  Whitman was to publish many versions and variations, of which this list gives only the principal ones.
In addition, William Michael Rosetti published a selected edition of the poems (American poems) in 1872, and his efforts on Whitman's behalf led to many subscriptions for the 1876 Centennial edition of the poems.
Adds 20 new poems and includes several reviews of the first edition, including two written by Whitman himself.
Despite doubts about its sexual content, Thoreau praises the volume.
Emerson is said to be understandably annoyed at Whitman’s unauthorized use of the letter, which has been affixed to a volume containing poems that he has never seen.
After his brother is wounded at Fredericksburg in 1862, Whitman goes to Washington to take care of him and stays on to visit the wounded in the Washington hospitals.  One of the first sights that greets him is a pile of amputated legs and arms, for the .58 caliber Minie balls or bullets, fired at slow velocity, resulted in shattered bones and gaping wounds and infections. Whitman visits the wounded every day for several years, until his health breaks down.  He writes letters, reads to the men, brings them goodies--tobacco, which he doesn’t use himself, fruit, brandy--and lifts their spirits. Whitman’s experiences in New York with helping hurt stage and wagon drivers was helpful. During this time, he met Peter Doyle, to whom he became close for a period of several  years.
From Roy Morris’s The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War (Oxford U P, 2001).
Whitman saw Lincoln often and regarded him as a great leader of the country.  Lincoln’s assassination plunged the poet, like the rest of the nation, into a numbing grief, and Whitman’s elegies to Lincoln are among his best-known work. O Captain, My Captain, is uncharacteristically conventional in form.  Whitman said later that he was sorry that he wrote it, since it was a popular favorite and not at all characteristic of his verse. “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d”  is one of his great poems.  It uses  images of sight--the evening star--of sound,--the mournful thrush--and of smell--the lilacs--to memorialize the Western leader and mourn his passing.
Horace Traubel, a neighbor, visits Whitman daily from 1888-1892 and records Whitman’s conversations, eventually publishing With Walt Whitman in Camden, 9 volumes of biography, published  1906-1914)
In his last years,
Whitman’s death notice is still preserved at the house, as are his slippers, hat, rocking chair, and other artifacts. 
The cause of death was mostly old age: Whitman’s lungs had collapsed, although he had suffered health problems for several years since his stroke in 1873.
This was the man, who, as he says in Song of Myself,
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The song of myself begins with “I,” but it ends with “you.” 
Information has been derived from these sources:
Allen, Gay Wilson. A reader's guide to Walt Whitman. (1970)
Kreig, Joanne P. A Whitman Chronology. U of Iowa P, 1998.
Loving, Jerome. Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. ---. Whitman in his own time : a biographical chronicle of his life, drawn from recollections, memoirs, and interviews by friends and associates (1991). Reynolds, David. Walt Whitman: A Cultural Biography.  New York: Knopf, 1995. Price, Kenneth, ed. Walt Whitman : the contemporary reviews. Cambridge U P, 1996. 
Zweig, Paul. Walt Whitman: The Making of the Poet. Basic Books, 1984.
This presentation was originally created to accompany a lecture and is used my American literature classes. It is used for non-commercial, educational purposes only.