More from and about
Walt Whitman
(biographical info at bottom of page)

  

Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large--I contain multitudes.

   

I like the scientific spirit--the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them:  this is ultimately fine--it always keeps the way beyond open--always gives life, thought, affection, the whole person, a chance to try over again after a mistake--after a wrong guess.

      
This is what you shall do:  Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any person or number of people, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
  
Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere - on water and land.
   

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean
But I shall be good health to you nonetheless
And filter and fibre your blood.

     

A writer can do nothing for people more necessary, satisfying, than
just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibility of their own souls.

   

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There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

   

O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless--of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light--of the objects mean--of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all--of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest--with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring--What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here--that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

   

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, not look through
the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books. You shall not look
through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
you shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

   
    
Walter "Walt" Whitman (May 31, 1819--March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse.  His work was very controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described as obscene for its overt sexuality.

Born in Huntington on Long Island, Whitman worked as a journalist, a teacher, a government clerk, and--in addition to publishing his poetry--was a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War. Early in his career, he also produced a temperance novel, Franklin Evans (1842). Whitman's major work, Leaves of Grass, was first published in 1855 with his own money.  The work was an attempt at reaching out to the common person with an American epic.  He continued expanding and revising it until his death in 1892.  After a stroke towards the end of his life, he moved to Camden, New Jersey, where his health further declined.  He died at age 72 and his funeral became a public spectacle.

Whitman was concerned with politics throughout his life.  He supported the Wilmot Proviso and opposed the extension of slavery generally.  His poetry presented an egalitarian view of the races, though his attitude in life reflected many of the racial prejudices common to nineteenth-century America and his opposition to slavery was not necessarily based on belief in the equality of races per se.  At one point he called for the abolition of slavery, but later he saw the abolitionist movement as a threat to democracy.

  

  

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