Walt Whitman Biography (1819-1892)

was a 19th century writer whose life’s work, Leaves of Grass, made him one of the first American poets to gain international attention. Whitman spent most of his young life in Brooklyn, where he worked as a printer and newspaper through the 1850s. The first edition of Leaves of Grass was privately printed in 1855 and consisted of 12 untitled poems, one of which was to later become famous as “Song of Myself.” His literary style was experimental, a free-verse avalanche in celebration of nature and self that has since been described as the first expression of a distinctly American voice. Although Leaves of Grass did not sell well at first, it became popular in literary circles in Europe and, later, the United States, and Whitman published a total of eight editions during his lifetime. During the Civil War Whitman moved to Washington, D.C., where he served as a civil servant and volunteer nurse. There he published the poetry collections Drum Taps and Sequel to Drum Taps (1865-66), the latter containing his famous elegies for Abraham Lincoln, “Where Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! My Captain!” In 1873 he was paralyzed after a stroke and moved to Camden, New Jersey. By the time of his death he was an international literary celebrity, and he is considered one of the most influential poets in American literature.

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