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Walt Whitman and His Literary Legacy Essay (Biography)

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Updated: Jun 2nd, 2022


Walt Whitman was an American journalist and poet born in 1819 in West Hills, New York and who died in1892 in Camden, New Jersey. During his life, Whitman served the community in numerous ways, for example, he was working as a teacher, volunteer nurse, journalist, essayist, and a government clerk (Bloom 16).

Whitman was a classical scholar who influenced the development of poetry through his numerous works that are relevant even today. He started writing and publishing his poems at a time when people did not enjoy the freedom of expressing their thoughts freely.

Nearly all of Whitman’s literary works evoked different reactions of social masses which caused Whitman to be given some of his famous nicknames such as the “Father of Free Verse” and “The Bard of Democracy”. The author’s life was stained by numerous disputes regarding his sexuality (Symonds 43). This issue provoked so much interest that biographers analyzed his poems as a way of understand his feelings.

They still continue to describe his sexuality as bisexual, although there is no clear evidence that Whitman had any sexual experiences with men. Whitman’s life was dominated by poetry and politics, especially during the industrialization era when he strongly opposed slavery. He was a staunch campaigner of democracy, as he used his influence to advocate for abolishment of slavery (Bloom 21).


Walt Whitman hailed from a family with eight children and it faced numerous economic challenges. The poor economic background of the family resulted from poor investment decisions made by the parents. The author described his upbringing as one characterized by ceaseless motion, worry, and lack of happiness.

The economic situation in Whitman’s family meant that there were limited life opportunities for him and his siblings (Bloom 26). Thus, he had to look for a job after finishing school. He worked in various places including his job as a trainee and printer at a local newspaper called Patriot. This job helped to shape Whitman’s career as a poet and journalist.

While working for the newspaper, Whitman had learnt how to use a typesetter, and gained a lot of knowledge about the printing press. He did not stay with this employer for long, and moved to another newspaper in Brooklyn called Long-Island Star. While in Brooklyn, Whitman visited the local library on a regular basis to read, as well as participate in debate and theatre performances (Meltzer 100).

Aspiring poets respected Whitman a lot for his lifestyle and beliefs, for example, in his youth, Whitman chose not to consume alcohol (Meltzer 109). Through his poems, Whitman encouraged readers to stay away from the temptations of alcohol, as it had serious effects. Whitman admitted to have written The Inebriate under the influence of alcohol.

He felt embarrassed by the poem because of the numerous contradictory phrases it contained (Symonds 48). Since then, Whitman decided to consume only alcohol free drinks. Whitman was a religious man, and believed in God. Through his works, Whitman advocated for equality among all believers. He believed that all religions were equal and none should feel superior over the other.

Some of the poems that emphasized his belief in God include Song of Myself, and With Antecedents (Symonds 53). However, it was hard for Whitman to avoid skepticism, as he did not believe in any religion despite accepting all of them.

One of the characteristic features of Whitman’s poems was the use of an expressive style, images and symbols. Ordinary poems did not have these elements. Although there were poets who used expressive style in their writings before Whitman, many people consider him as the one responsible for popularization of this style (Meltzer 126).

Whitman believed that the ideal recipe for a poet to succeed was a shared passion for poetry between poets and the readers. He expressed his thoughts about the success of poets in his collection of poems called the Leaves of Grass. According to Whitman, there is a dependent relationship between poetry and society.

The society helps influence the development of poetry by providing an audience, while poetry helps instilling positive ideals in society through information and knowledge (Bloom 30). Whitman underlined this concept in one of his poems called the Song of Myself.

His writing style also incorporated first person recitation. Whitman had a strong ability to create poems in singular form. This earned him a title among the American readers of the “Poet of Democracy”.

The writer used Leaves of Grass to divulge the character and identity the American people. Through his poems, Whitman gave a detailed account of the civilization era in the United States of America. Leaves of Grass is one of the most important reference resources for history students, who study events that marked the civilization of America (Meltzer 132). Despite his success as a poet, Whitman was not much into poetry.

He realized that he had the ability to bring change in the society by pursuing a different dream. Thus, he started his career as a poet. Whitman used a variety of themes in his poems to discuss various issues that affected the society. One the themes that he used in his poems was sexuality. This theme resulted in widespread criticism from readers over the offensive topics discussed by this theme.

The manner in which Whitman discussed human feelings elicited questions about his sexuality that remains a mystery to date. Many people believe that his controversial themes helped a lot in shaping a realist society that accepts everyone despite their perfections and imperfections (Symonds 61).

Whitman helped to create a positive mentality about diversity through his poems. Readers of these poems have managed to carry on his teachings into the modern society.


Walt Whitman was one of the most influential people in the field of fictional writing. His legacy still lives on many years after he passed on. According to Whitman, there is a dependent relationship between poetry and society. Whitman is remembered for his role in introducing a new style of writing poems, and his fight for democracy in the United States of America.

Whitman also inspired many people with his lifestyle and beliefs. Most of Whitman’s admirers believe that he is the best poet that America had at that time. Many modern poets still promote the legacy that Walt Whitman left through their poems. Throughout his life, Whitman served his community in numerous roles, and through his work, he advocated for equality among all religions and all people. He believed that all were equal.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Walt Whitman. New York: Info Base Publishing, 2009. Print.

Meltzer, Milton. Walt Whitman: A Biography. New Jersey: Twenty-First Century Books, 2002. Print.

Symonds, John. Walt Whitman: A Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

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