, Research Paper
Walt Whitman and his Themes of Life
Throughout society publishers can make or brake a writer s career. When a writer must publish his own work many times his work becomes shelved in his own home for the dinner guests to see. In Some cases as this one, you have a writer who publishes his own work and later becomes one of America s most honored poets and his work hailed as a masterpiece of American literature. Walt whitman pioneered a vision of humanity based on egalitarian democratic ideals and unveiled an ambitious poetic voice designed to serve as the embodiment of America, through Leaves of Grass. In his most highly regarded poem “Song of Myself” Whitman states “You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self” (Whitman 28). This is everlasting and reflects his personal outlooks. Walt Whitman has a lot to contribute to his writings. This information is focused on his personal history of his childhood, adulthood and the text behind one of his many themes, friendship.
As the second of nine children Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island on May 31, 1819. He grew up in Brooklyn and went to public schools there for six years. By the age of eleven Whitman was done with formal education and he began his life after school as a laborer, working first as an office boy for a law office. Here his self-education began absorbing what he could at the library. In 1831 Whitman became an apprentice on the Long Island Patriot, a liberal, working class newspaper, where he learned the printing trade and was first exposed to excitement of putting words into print, observing how thought and event could be quickly transformed into language and immediately communicated to thousands of readers. He wrote articles on politics and the arts. He attended debates, the theater, concerts, lectures, political meetings and often rode on stage- coaches and ferries just to talk with people (Kaplan 14; “American”). During his stint at the Patriot, Whitman retain a typesetter s concern for how his words look on a page, what typeface they were dressed in , what effects various spatial arrangements had, and he would always retain his stubborn independence, never marrying and living alone for most of his life. Meanwhile in the summer of 1833 after his family had resettled on a farm they had another son , Thomas Jefferson. Though the 14 year age difference, Whitman would grow very close with Thomas later when they travel together to New Orleans in 1848. It had seemed that Whitman s calling was going to be in the printing business, but severe fires wiped out the major printing and business centers of the city, and, in the midst of a gloomy financial climate, Whitman retreated home to his family in Long Island.
Whitman began his new career as a schoolteacher. These may have been Whitman s most unhappiest years, traveling to some ten towns to teach and rooming with his students. He received very little pay to teach some very unenlightened people. The little evidence of his teaching is (mostly from short recollections by a few former students) suggests that Whitman employed what were then progressive techniques encouraging students to think aloud rather than simply recite, refusing to punish by paddling, involving his students in educational games, and joining his students in baseball and card games. He did not hesitate to use his own poems which he was by this time writing with some frequency, though they were rhymed, conventional verses that indicated nothing of the innovative poetry to come as texts in his classroom. Succeeding the teaching Whitman spent a short time as a fiction writer between the years of 1840 to 1845, placing his stories in magazines. During this time Whitman was writing for an array of newspapers on topics ranging from how the police rounded up prostitutes denouncing the bishop s support of parochial schools ( Conarroe; Poetry for). Now at the age of thirty five Whitman had published his first edition of Leaves of Grass which consisted of twelve untitled poems and no indication of its author aside from the copyright notice, in which the holders is identified as “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos,” a phrase echoed I one of the poems. Within a few months of producing his first edition of Leaves, Whitman was already hard at work on the second edition. While in the first, he had given his long lines room to stretch across the page by printing the book on large paper, in the second edition he sacrificed the spacious pages and produced what he later called his “chunky fat book,” his earliest attempt to create a pocket-size edition that would offer the reader what Whitman thought of as the “ideal pleasure” “to put a book in your pocket and [go] off to the seashore or the forest.” On the cover of this edition, published and distributed by Fowler and Wells (though the firm carefully distanced themselves from the book by proclaiming that “the author is still his own publisher”), Whitman emblazoned one of the first “blurbs” in American publishing history: without asking Emerson s permission, he printed in gold on the spine of the book the opening words of Emerson s letter to him: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” followed by Emerson s name. And, to generate publicity for the volume, he appended to the volume a group of reviews of the first edition including three he wrote himself along with a few negative reviews and called the gathering Leaves-Droppings. Whitman was a pioneer of the “any publicity is better than no publicity” strategy. At the back of the book, he printed Emerson s entire letter (again, without permission) and wrote a long public letter back a kind of apologia for his poetry addressing it to “Master.” Although he would later downplay the influence of Emerson on his work, at this time, he later recalled, he had “Emerson-on-the-brain” ( American; Conarroe; Kaplan). Whitman had go on to release Leaves of Grass a numerous amount of times, some good and some very criticized. An American poet, essayist, novelist, short story writer, journalist, and editor was a journeyman of knowledge, it seemed. His knowledge quest seemed to be on the path to find the simple themes of life.
One theme that whitman wrote about was friendship in the section of Leaves of Grass called Calamus. This vision was of a “continent indissoluble” with “inseparable cities” all joined by “the life-long love of comrades.” The poem “We Two Boys are Together Clinging” is a good example of his poems on friendship. “We two boys together clinging, One the other never leaving, Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making, Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
Arm d and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving”( Whitman 121). This is a power excerpt of Whitman s poem about close ties between two people and the struggle of surging through the war. It talks as both men don t leave each other s side as friends stick together and as soldiers do during war. Another poem that expresses friendship would be “When I Peruse The Conquer d Fame”. “But when I hear of the brotherhood of lovers, how it was with them, How together through life, through dangers, odium unchanging, long and long, Through youth and through middle and old age, how unflattering, how affectionate and faithful they were” (120). This quotation of his poem shows how two people go through life together through many circumstances and through many time periods and at the end they can still show there affection to each other. Whitman wanted to unify and shatter conflicts so that mankind would bind a nation and build democracy through the themes of life.
Through Walt Whitman s eyes we have seen nature, friendship, death and defeat. All his writings can only be interpreted the way one sees the writings themselves. The poet died on March 26, 1892. The cause of death was miliary tuberculosis, with other contributing factors. Reader s remember Whitman for not what he wrote but what he taught through his writings. “O Captain! My Captain!” rise up and hear the bells(Whitman 308) , for they are playing for you and you will be remembered.