Walt Whitman the poet was a man whose voice and writing reflected his philosophy regarding war, politics, sexuality, race, slavery, physical states, spiritual states and democracy. Whitman became a spokesman of the written word for not only those citizens with a non-conformist attitude but also those treated unjustly and suffering.
Walt Whitman: The Poet and Philosopher
Starting out early in life and working by the age of 12, Whitman's life remained one of struggle as he worked in numerous jobs to eek out a living while writing.
Whitman spent most of his early years in New York City where he learned about the people, theatre, classic literature and opera and frequently read in the libraries. During this time, Whitman began writing in a new style known as free verse. The style did not follow the structured flow of rhythm and rhyme of traditional and current work.
Whitman's travels to the south in the late 1840s influenced his writing, as he witnessed first hand the plight of slaves and their suffering. His "I Sing the Body Electric" and "Sailing the Mississippi at Midnight" reflect the effect these travels had on him.
His first edition of Leaves of Grass was self-published in 1855. It was neither a literary nor financial success during its first printing, nor was a revised edition published in 1856 that featured revisions and new work, including "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." In 1860, Whitman's third edition of Leaves of Grass contained substantial revisions to the original work and additional pieces including "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," "Chants Democratic" and the "Calamus" poems and published by a Boston company.
When the Civil War erupted, Whitman's brother, George, was wounded in a battle at Fredericksburg. While staying with his brother, Whitman volunteered to work at the hospitals for the wounded soldiers where he attended to the injured men and helped pen correspondence to their families.
Whitman's, "Come Up from the Fields, Father," and "The Wound Dresser" along with "Drum Taps" and his tribute to President Lincoln, "Oh Captain! My Captain! focus on the realities of war through the poet's eyes.
After suffering a stroke in 1873, Whitman lived with his brother for several years in Camden, New Jersey where he continued to write producing new works and revising the poems published in the Leaves of Grass that had its eighth edition published in 1881.
In the year of Whitman's death, 1892, his ninth and final revision of the original 1855 compilation of Leaves of Grass published for the last time.
In the "The Last Invocation" from the Leaves of Grass, his own words convey his philosophy of oneself transcending from physical to spiritual:
"At the last, tenderly,
From the walls of the powerful fortress'd house,
From the clasp of the knitted locks, from the keep of the well-closed doors,
Let me be wafted.
Let me glide noiselessly forth;
With the key of softness unlock the locks-with a whisper,
Set one the doors O soul."