Beinecke Digital Collections Beinecke Library’s collections broadly document human expression and lived experience. Some objects use words or images that are now recognized as offensive and unacceptable; some may have been viewed as unacceptable when they were created. Inclusion of such objects in the digital library is not an endorsement of their language, images, or ideology. Libraries exist to help readers understand and confront history to inform the present in service of the future. Questions about copyright, permissions, or access, including access to images restricted due to copyright or other reasons? Please visit copyright page.
Walt Whitman (; May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist, and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. His work was controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection ''Leaves of Grass'', which was described as obscene for its overt sensuality. Whitman's own life came under scrutiny for his presumed homosexuality.
Born in Huntington on Long Island, as a child and through much of his career he resided in Brooklyn. At age 11, he left formal schooling to go to work. Later, Whitman worked as a journalist, a teacher, and a government clerk. Whitman's major poetry collection, ''Leaves of Grass'', was first published in 1855 with his own money and became well known. The work was an attempt at reaching out to the common person with an American epic. He continued expanding and revising it until his death in 1892. During the American Civil War, he went to Washington, D.C. and worked in hospitals caring for the wounded. His poetry often focused on both loss and healing. Two of his well known poems, "O Captain! My Captain!" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd", were written on the death of Abraham Lincoln. After a stroke towards the end of his life, Whitman moved to Camden, New Jersey, where his health further declined. When he died at age 72, his funeral was a public event.
Whitman's influence on poetry remains strong. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe argued: "You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without ''Leaves of Grass'' ... He has expressed that civilization, 'up to date,' as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him." Modernist poet Ezra Pound called Whitman "America's poet ... He ''is'' America."