By Stacy Rice,2014-05-19 18:11
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Walt Whitman

Walt WhitmanLife


    Birth: May 31 on Long Island, NY. (Paumanok) ;

    Poor education: only public school in Brooklyn, NY.

    Long Island + Brooklyn: countryside pastoral life and hurly-burly city life as the resources for his poetry. Work: printer school teacher newspaper editor

Civil War


    An ardent supporter of the struggle for the abolition of slavery; A volunteer nurse to take care of wounded soldiers in army hospitals in Washington; Great admirer of Abraham LincolnO, Captain! My Captain!

    Death: after a paralyzing stroke in 1873, spent the rest of his life in Camden, New Jersey till 1892, unmarried.

Whitman: the Great Acceptor

    Influenced by American and European thoughts:

    The Enlightenment: rights and dignity of the individual, toleration, humanitarianism, cosmopolitanism;

    Idealism and transcendentalism;

    The idea of progress;

    American Individualism;


Publication of 1st Leaves of Grass

    1855, Brooklyn: self-published the first edition of Leaves of Grass (only twelve poems) widely ignored and

    criticized for his breaking from the poetic convention, and its sexuality as well as its exotic and vulgar language:

    ―noxious weeds‖, ―poetry of barbarism‖, ―a mass of stupid filth‖.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson praises his work with a congratulatory letter:

Emerson’s Letter to Whitman

    (21 July, 1855)

    ―I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of Leaves of Grass. I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit

    and wisdom that America has yet contributed…I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion;

    but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty…

Literary Works: Poetry

    Leaves of Grass (1855) First edition.

    Leaves of Grass (1856) Second edition.

    Leaves of Grass (1860) Third edition.

    Drum Taps (1865) and Sequel to Drum Taps (1865) 《桴鼓集及其他》

    Leaves of Grass (1867) Fourth edition.

    Leaves of Grass (1870) Fifth edition.

    Passage to India (1870)

    Leaves of Grass (1876) Centennial edition.

    Leaves of Grass (1881) Sixth edition.

    Leaves of Grass (1891-92) "Deathbed" edition contains all of his 400-odd poems. Good-Bye, My Fancy (1891)

Leaves of Grass: Symbolism

    All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,

    And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.grass, the most common thing with the greatest vitality.

    the poet himself grass roots;

    common people;

    the flourishingly developing American;

    the vitality of American ideas of democracy and freedom.


    Developing America

    Nature through describing and eulogizing American Nature, Whitman extols the development of American

    capitalism and expresses his patriotism

    Labor and laboring people

    Democracy and freedom


    Democracy, freedom, equality;

    Greatness of the common laborers;

    The emergent flourishing America and his love for America. Brotherhood /fraternity;


    Aim try to develop a poetry that was uniquely American, that both surpassed and broke the mold of its



    Free verse:自由体诗―free‖ of the regular beat of meter or regular rhyme scheme; depending instead on the individual poet’s sensitivity to the music of natural speech rhythms; Often with irregular line lengths and fragmentary syntax.



    Plain language,

    Extremely long lines--―catalog‖ Carl Sandburg, Allen Ginsberg

Leaves of Grass: Significance

    An epoch-making work in American literature:

    Its democratic content marked the shift from Romanticism to Realism; Its free-verse form broke from old poetic conventions to open a new road for American poetry.

     ―The Bible of Democracy‖—John Burroughs

Literary Position

    ―A mountain in American literary history‖

    The first American poet to write free verse

    One of the most original and inspiring American poets The precursor of 20th-century American new poetry and the exploiter of modern poetry

    Huge impact on Chinese poetry in the May Fourth Movement

Youth, Day, Old Age and Night

    Q: What do you think of the poet’s view of youth and old age? And do you agree with him? Q: What rhetorical devices are used in the poem? Alliteration: large, lusty, loving

    Internal rhyme: grace, force


    Metaphor: youth day, old age night

    Contrast: youth;;old age, day;;night


Thought (1860)

    Q: What does the first line modify?

    Q: Can you give any historical evidence to support the statement ―large masses of men following the lead of

    those who do not believe in men‖?

To Those Who’ve Failed

    Q: What do those who have failed strive for? Q: How should people treat them?

    Q: Do you think the poem has a wide appeal? Q: What major rhetorical device is used?


    Q: Who in Whitman’s eyes are the bravest soldiers?


    Q: What is Whitman’s outlook on life?

    Q: What rhetorical devices are used in the poem?

Unseen Buds

    Q: What does the image ―unseen buds‖ symbolize?

    The potentiality of the developing America


    Q: Can you summarize what is the joy of manly self-hood? Q: What should we do when meeting enemies according to the poet?

A Song for Occupations

    Q: What do you think is the theme of the poem? Democracy


    Q: What in Whitman’s mind is a good way for the development of a state, obedience or disobedience? Why?


    Q: What does the poet see?

    Q: What does the poet feel after his observation? Q: What major rhetorical devices are used in this poem?


    Please preview Emily Dickinson’s poems.

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