Why Did Walt Whitman Write Leaves of Grass
A Short Bio of Walt Whitman
Walter Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was born in Long Island, New York and is regarded as a American poet, essayist and journalist. His core specialty lies in poetry and is regarded as one of the chieftains in American poetic cult and father of free verse.
He is mostly famous for his work Leaves of Grass, a poetry collection described as overtly sexual in nature.
Whitman was the second oldest out of eleven siblings. He was sent to a public school till the age of eleven. Walt Whitman did odd jobs at a young age to support his lower middle class family. He was hired as a tea boy at a physician and then a helper at a lawyer.
The Writing Journey
In later years, he joined a printing office as an apprentice. It was during this job that he observed prose and practiced spellings, punctuation and elementary principles of writing. His mind and soul became mature at an early age.
Conception of Leaves of Grass
Later, Walt Whitman began to write and edit various articles for newspapers and periodicals. During this phase, he discovered that his writings are influential and must try to express his thoughts in the form of poetry. It was in 1862, the civil war was taking place in USA; Walt Whitman came to know that his younger brother has been wounded in Virginia.
So, he travelled to Virginia to look after his brother. To his astonishment, he saw hundreds of injured in the hospital. A great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, Whitman was vastly taken by the President’s assassination and penned several pieces on the tragedy.
The events and scenario in Virginia further triggered his sensitivity and imagination; and he decided to use power of words to let the world know how severely, the poor citizens are suffering both spiritually and physically.
Critical Acclaim of Leaves of Grass
In 1855, Whitman published nine of his poems in the form of a book called Leaves of Grass. The poems were written on subjects such as politics, life, spirituality, nature, love, American culture, sexual imagery and the overall existence of human beings.
Leaves of Grass received plenty of criticism from critics and American poets because according to them, his poetry was a negative reflection of American culture and lacked rhythm. This did not stop Whitman from creating free verses. So far, ten editions of Leaves of Grass have been published, with each edition improved and contained more poems that the precursor.
Today, Leaves of Grass is recognized as a classic and Whitman is regarded as one of the great poets. Walt Whitman believes that poetry should come directly from the poet’s heart in a natural and simple manner; rhyming hinders the flow of free ideas and expressions.
Content and Analysis of Leaves of Grass
First edition of Leaves of Grass was published in 1855 where he designed the cover, typeset and paid for the printing of the book himself
Famed poems from the1855 edition are "I Sing the Body Electric," "The Sleepers," “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’dand”, "Song of Myself," a long poem in fifty-two sections, considered to be his masterpiece by quite a lot of literary cult.
A second edition of the Leaves of Grass was released in 1856 which consisted of a total of 33 poems. During his life, Whitman continued to redraft and enlarge the volume, publishing several more editions of the book.
The last version from 1892, at the time of his death, contained 383 poems, in fourteen extensive sections: "Inscriptions," "Children of Adam," "Calamus," "Birds of Passage," "Sea-Drift," "By the Roadside," "Drum Taps," "Memories of President Lincoln," "Autumn Rivulets," "Whispers of Heavenly Death," "From Noon to Starry Night," "Songs of Parting," "First Annex: Sands at Seventy," and "Second Annex: Good-bye My Fancy."
A congratulatory article in the New York Sun by poet J. D. McClatchy describes Walt Whitman’s vision as, "mystical" and "too uncanny to have resulted from mere literary musings." McClatchy further says,
"No one has been able to adequately describe how Walter Whitman came to write his book. Certainly nothing in his past could have predicted it."