Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892

Walt Whitman, perhaps the greatest American poetic genius ever, was deeply influenced by the spirit of Transcendentalism.  At one time he hailed Ralph Waldo Emerson as his "master."  More than any other poet, Whitman embodied the individualism and innovation Emerson called for in the ideal poet in his famous essay "The Poet."  In 1855 Whitman published, at his own expense, the first edition of his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, a thin volume of twelve long untitled poems written in highly original and innovative free verse.  For the rest of his life, he constantly revised and republished this monumental work, which represents a continuing evolution of the poet's life, a strikingly original relation to the universe, and an uninhibited celebration of American democracy.  For Whitman, the central point of his philosophy of democracy was his faith in the powers of Man.  He saw Man to be the source of all potential goodness, beauty, and truth, and to partake of the same nature as God.  He insisted that, to develop his creative inclinations, man needs freedom--freedom open to all, built on equality, tolerance, and self-respect.  Whitman's life and poetry are a most powerful and practical demonstration of much that the New England Transcendentalists advocated.