Walt Whitman is considered by many to be one of the greatest American poets. He was born in 1819; early in his life he worked as a printer, a teacher, a newspaper editor, and a carpenter.
By 1841 he had become a full-time journalist, editing successfully several papers and writing prose and verse for different journals.
In 1855 he published a volume of 12 poems that was to make his reputation, “Leaves of Grass”. This book the poet continues to enlarge and revise through a number of editions until his death. His “Leaves of Grass” are unconventional in both contents and technique. “Leaves of Grass” was innovative in its use of rhythmical free verse. The book was criticized because of Whitman’s exaltation of the body and sexual love, and also because of the unusual verse form. The volume is prefaced by a statement of his theories of poetry. It included the poem later known as “Song of myself”. In this poem the author proclaims himself as a symbolic representative of common people.
Although the book was a commercial failure, critics recognized a bold new voice in poetry. Emerson was one of the few intellectuals to praise Whitman’s work, writing him a famous congratulation letter. In time the book proved the most influential volume of poems in American literary history. In its own day, however, only a few recognized its genius.
During the Civil War Whitman worked as a nurse. He also published war poetry in “Drum-Taps” and other collections of poems. In 1873 he had a stroke and lived in a semi-invalid state.
In his works Walt Whitman celebrated the freedom of the man. He praised democracy and brotherhood of men. Walt Whitman inspired later poets to experimentation in verse.