Imagine being known as America’s greatest and most influential poet. You’ll be known as someone who could be able to influence people just by using your words and putting it into poetry. Walt Whitman is extremely well-known and is one of the most influential writers of the 19th century. His writing style, poems, and the impact he has on others are some of the many reasons why he’s important to American literature, and why he’s one of the greatest poets.
Walt Whitman was known as “The Father of Free Verse.” In the early 19th century every poem you’ll find rhymed because free verse wasn’t discovered yet. When Walt Whitman came along, he changed all of that. His free verse form of poetry was extremely inspiring to other poets. An example of a free verse poem he did is called, “Song of Myself.” Free verses doesn’t have a regular meter or it doesn’t rhyme. “The ideal American poet, according to Walt Whitman, did not elevate himself above the common man. He did not identify with Europe, it’s land, people, and society. He was American through and through.” (Allison 2010).
Walt Whitman’s most known works are from his collection called, “Leaves of Grass”. The book was self-published in 1855 consisting of twelve different poems. He spent the rest of his life wanting to expand and revise his work. “He produced varied editions of the work ending with the ninth, or “deathbed” edition, in 1891-1892. What began as a slim book of twelve poems was by the end of his life a thick compendium of almost 400.” (Library of Congress). Some poems that were the most popular was, “Song of Myself, I Hear America singing, and O Captain! My Captain!”.
“Song of Myself” is the longest poem in the Leaves of Grass consisting of around 70 pages and 40 sections. This poem is important because it helped shape the idea of what it means to be an American. Walt Whitman’s perspective of America was an ideal of equality, optimism, independence and brotherly love. “You might wonder why Whitman is so eager to become friends with every single person he met. It might help to remember that the poem was written only a few years before the outbreak of the Civil War, and Whitman viewed friendship as the last hope to save a fractured union.” (Shmoop Editorial Team).
The next poem is called “I Hear America Singing.” This poem is about each individual having a role and a voice that belongs to that one person. It also presents an image of proud and healthy individuals taking joy in their work and being productive. In his poem it talks about carpenters, boatmen, woodcutters, mothers, and children all singing happily to the jobs they’re doing. “The image of the singing workers is repeated throughout the poem to show the theme of joy and contentment in their work.” (eNotes Editorial).
The last poem I mentioned is called “O Captain! My Captain!.” This poem has a background of the Civil War in America. Walt Whitman wrote this poem as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln because he looked up to him. He was sad from seeing the outcome of the Civil War so he made an elegy in memory of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. “An elegy is often a melancholy poem that laments it’s subjects death but ends in consolation.” (Poetry Foundation).
Many other poets and famous figures read Whitman’s poems and instantly found inspiration. He has a huge impact on many writers such as Ezra Pound and Andrew Carnegie because of his writing. Andrew Carnegie was a pioneer in the steel industry. He admired Whitman and called him, “the great poet in America.” Ezra Pound was an American poet and critic. He wrote the poem called “The Pact” which was about Walt Whitman. Ezra disliked Whitman’s work because he felt like he didn’t show much control in his writing. In “The Pact” he asks Whitman for friendship. He knew his actions were child like, but he matured out of it and recognizes the ways Whitman paved a way for his work. Ezra Pound admires him and created an essay called “What I Feel About Walt Whitman.” Pound said, “He is America. When I write of certain things I find myself using his rhythms. I am a Walt Whitman who has learned to wear a collar and a dress shirt. Personally I might be glad to conceal my relationship with my spiritual father.”
As a result, Walt Whitman is one of the greatest, most influential poets. He is also very important to American literature. He showed that people can be free and they could be whatever they wanted. Whitman crafted one of the most distinctive styles in world poetry and everyone would be able to recognize his writings. These are the reasons why Walt Whitman is the greatest poet in America.
- Elegy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/elegy.
- How Walt Whitman Changed The World of Poetry & What You Can Learn From It. (2018, July 23). Retrieved from https://www.neboagency.com/blog/lesson-walt-whitman-audacity/.
- Leaves of Grass. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/whitman-leaves-of-grass/.
- Masel, C. (2019, June 4). Guide to the classics: Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and the complex life of the ‘poet of America’. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/guide-to-the-classics-walt-whitmans-leaves-of-grass-and-the-complex-life-of-the-poet-of-america-116055.
- Walt Whitman. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://americanliterature.com/author/walt-whitman.
- Walt Whitman. (2016, March 2). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/walt-whitman-essay.