Friday, May 31, 2013

May 31 - Walt Whitman

Poet Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, on Long Island. He worked as a journalist, teacher, government clerk and volunteer nurse during the Civil War. As early as 1850, he began writing what would become Leaves of Grass (1855), initially a collection of 12 untitled poems, influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s call for the United States to have its own unique poet to record its virtues and vices. Whitman spent his life writing this distinctly American epic, revising it in several editions until his death. Poems in the collection include "Song of Myself," "I Sing the Body Electric," "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," and in later editions, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," his elegy to Lincoln. The title is a pun: "grass" was a publisher’s term for works of minor value, and "leaves" is term for the printed pages. Whitman believed the poet and society had a vital, reciprocal relationship: in the first edition, he wrote that "The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it."

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