American Poet – Walt Whitman

Controversial in life and legacy, Walt Whitman remains a polarizing figure in the history of poetry. Although credited by some as the father of free verse, his importance tended to be downplayed by later modernist adopters of the style.

It was the proto-“free verse” of the King James Bible that inspired Whitman’s massive, sprawling American ode Leaves of Grass. Yet nothing in the Bible (not even the sensual Song of Solomon) comes close to presaging the unambiguously sexual and yet consistently reverent tone of Leaves of Grass.

Essentially, Leaves of Grass was intended to be about America, and for Americans; Whitman felt that his ideal audience was not the academics and affluent intelligentsia, but the average “Tom, Dick, and Harry”, as he put it. His language was therefore more bluntly vigorous and sensual than the symbolic and lofty transcendentalists from which he emerged.

Whitman’s character is at least as influential as his work. An admitted “vagabond”, his 19th Century travels were emulated by later poets of the Beat Generation, including Kerouac, Ferlighetti, and Ginsberg (whose work often references Whitman both subtly and overtly). References abound throughout 19th and 20th Century poets, novelists, and musicians — even Ray Bradbury’s “I Sing the Body Electric”  is taken from the poem of the same name.

Whitman’s sexuality has been a hotly-debated topic among biographers, leading to his characterization as homosexual or bisexual despite no conclusive evidence that he ever had sexual relations. Yet Whitman was also the “quintessential male”  that inspired his correspondent and contemporary Bram Stoker’s classic character, Count Dracula.

– Early Works –

* One’s-Self I Sing
* As I Ponder’d in Silence
* In Cabin’d Ships at Sea
* To Foreign Lands
* To a Historian
* To Thee Old Cause
* Eidolons
* For Him I Sing
* When I Read the Book
* Beginning My Studies
* Beginners
* To the States
* On Journeys Through the States
* To a Certain Cantatrice
* Me Imperturbe
* Savantism
* The Ship Starting
* I Hear America Singing
* What Place Is Besieged?
* Still Though the One I Sing
* Shut Not Your Doors
* Poets to Come
* To You
* Thou Reader

* * BOOK II * *
* Starting from Paumanok

* * BOOK III * *
* Song of Myself, Part 1
* Song of Myself, Part 2

* To the Garden the World
* From Pent-Up Aching Rivers
* I Sing the Body Electric
* A Woman Waits for Me
* Spontaneous Me
* One Hour to Madness and Joy
* Out of the Rolling Ocean the Crowd
* Ages and Ages Returning at Intervals
* We Two, How Long We Were Fool’d
* O Hymen! O Hymenee!
* I Am He That Aches with Love
* Native Moments
* Once I Pass’d Through a Populous City
* I Heard You Solemn-Sweet Pipes of the Organ
* Facing West from California’s Shores

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