Quotes by Walt Whitman
I said: "Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic!" He was hilarious: "That's beautiful: the hurrah game! well — it's our game: that's the chief fact in connection with it: America's game: has the snap, go fling, of the American atmosphere — belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life."
We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents, and sort them, to unify them. They will be found ampler than has been supposed, and in widely different sources. Thus far, impress'd by New England writers and schoolmasters, we tacitly abandon ourselves to the notion that our United States has been fashion'd from the British Islands only, and essentially form a second England only — which is a very great mistake.
In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing "base", a certain game of ball...Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms...the game of ball is glorious.
Talk not so much‚ then‚ young artist‚ of the great old masters‚ who but painted and chisell’d. Study not only their productions. There is a still higher school for him who would kindle his fire with coal from the altar of the loftiest and purest art. It is the school of all grand actions and grand virtues‚ of heroism‚ of the death of patriots and martyrs — of all the mighty deeds written in the pages of history — deeds of daring‚ and enthusiasm‚ devotion‚ and fortitude.
It is a beautiful truth that all men contain something of the artist in them. And perhaps it is the case that the greatest artists live and die‚ the world and themselves alike ignorant what they possess.' Who would not mourn that an ample palace‚ of surpassingly graceful architecture‚ fill’d with luxuries‚ and embellish’d with fine pictures and sculpture‚ should stand cold and still and vacant‚ and never be known or enjoy’d by its owner? Would such a fact as this cause your sadness? Then be sad. For there is a palace‚ to which the courts of the most sumptuous kings are but a frivolous patch‚ and‚ though it is always waiting for them‚ not one of its owners ever enters there with any genuine sense of its grandeur and glory.
'I think of few heroic actions‚ which cannot be traced to the artistical impulse. He who does great deeds‚ does them from his innate sensitiveness to moral beauty.
I have just this moment heard from the front — there is nothing yet of a movement, but each side is continually on the alert, expecting something to happen.
O Mother, to think that we are to have here soon what I have seen so many times, the awful loads and trains and boatloads of poor, bloody, and pale and wounded young men again — for that is what we certainly will, and before very long. I see all the little signs, getting ready in the hospitals, etc.; it is dreadful when one thinks about it. I sometimes think over the sights I have myself seen: the arrival of the wounded after a battle, and the scenes on the field, too, and I can hardly believe my own recollections. What an awful thing war is! Mother, it seems not men but a lot of devils and butchers butchering each other.
Walt Whitman's Biography
American poet, journalist and essayist, best known for LEAVES OF GRASS (1855), which was occasionally banned, and the poems 'I Sing the Body Electric' and 'Song of Myself.' Whitman incorporated natural speech rhythms into poetry. He disregarded metre, but the overall effect has a melodic character. Harold Bloom has stated in The Western Canon (1994) that "no Western poet, in the past century and half, not even Browning, or Leopardi or Baudelaire, overshadows Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson."

Walt Whitman was born in Long Island, New York, the son of a Quaker carpenter. Whitman's mother was descended from Dutch farmers. In Whitman's childhood there were slaves employed on the farm. Whitman was early on filled with a love of nature. He read classics i n his youth and was inspired by writers such as Goethe, Hegel, Carlyle and Emerson. He left school early to become a printer's apprentice. He also in 1835 worked as a teacher and journeyman printer. After that he held a great variety of jobs while writing and editing for several periodicals, The Brooklyn Eagle from 1846 to 1848 and The Brooklyn Times from 1857 to 1858. In between he spent three months on a New Orleans paper, working for his father, and earning his living from undistinguished hack-work.

In New York Whitman witnessed the rapid growth of the city and wanted to write a new kind of poetry in tune with mankind's new faith, hopeful expectations and energy of his days. Another theme in 'Song of Myself' is suffering and death ? he identified with Jesus and his fate: "In vain were nails driven through my hands. / I remember my crucifixion and bloody coronation / I remember the mockers and the buffeting insults / The sepulchre and the white linen have yielded me up / I am alive in New York and San Francisco, / Again I tread the streets after two thouand years." (from an early draft) The first edition of Leaves of Grass appeared in July 1855 at Whitman's own expense ? he also personally had set the type for it ? and the poem was about the writer himself. In the same year there also appeared Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha, another great American epic. The third edition of Leaves was published during Whitman's wandering years in 1860. It was greeted with warm appreciation, although at first his work was not hugely popular. Ralph Waldo Emerson was among his early admirers and wrote in 1855: "I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy."

When Whitman wrote the first edition, he knew little or nothing about Indian philosophy, but later critics have recognized Indian ideas expressed in the poems ? words from the Sanskrit are used correctly in some of the poems written after 1858. Leaves of Grass also includes a group of poems entitled 'Calamus', which has been taken as reflection of the poet's homosexuality, although according to Whitman they celebrated the 'beautiful and sane affection of man for man'. During the Civil War Whitman worked as a clerk in Washington, where his close friends included William Douglas O'Connor, a writer and daguerrotypist, and his wife Ellen, who invited him to their home. When his brother was wounded at Fredericksburg, Whitman went there to care for him and also for other Union and Confederate soldiers. According to some sources, Whitman had only one abortive attempt at a sexual relationship, presumably homosexual, in the winter of 1859-60 with a young Confederate soldier, whose leg was amputated. "Our affection is quite an affair, quite romantic," he wrote. Toward the end of war, in 1865, Whitman met a streetcar conductor named Peter Doyle, who became his closest companion in Washington. Whitman's letters to Doyle were published in 1897 under the title CALAMUS by his first biographer, the Canadian progressive psychiatrist and mystic Richard Maurice Bucke.

The war had its effect on the writer, which is shown in the poems published under the title of DRUM-TAPS (1865). In its companion volume, SEQUEL (1865-66), appeared the great elegy on President Abraham Lincoln, 'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd'. Another famous poem about the death of Lincoln is 'O Captain! My Captain!'. "I love the president personally," Whitman wrote in his diary. It is possible, that Lincoln was familiar with Leaves of Grass, and once remarked on seeing Whitman on the streets: "Well, he looks like a man. Whitman's unpublished prose pieces and war journalism, written for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the New York Times and other New York papers, were collected in MEMORANDA DURING THE WAR (1875) and SPECIMEN DAYS AND COLLECT (1882).

On the basis of his services Whitman was given a clerkship in the Department of the Interior. He transferred then to the attorney general's office, when his chief labelled Leaves of Grass an indecent book. "I wear my hat as I please indoors or out. I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones. I am the man, I suffered, I was there. Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. Passage to India. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. A woman waits for me. When I give I give myself. The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. The never-ending audacity of elected persons. Pioneers! o Pioneers!" In England Whitman's work was better received ? among his admirers were Alfred Tennyson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A paralytic attack in 1873 destroyed Whitman's health and he was forced to give up his work. During his recuperation Whitman was nursed by Doyle and Ellen O'Connor.

At the age of sixty-four, Whitman settled in a little house on Mickle Street in Camden, New Jersey, where he spent almost the rest of his life. He was taken care of by a widow he had befriended. His reputation, which was shadowed by his outspokenness on sexual matters, began to rise after recognition in England by Algerton Charles Swinburne, Anne Gilchrist, and Edward Carpenter. In 1871 Whitman politely declined Gilchrist's offer of marriage. Visitors from abroad also included in 1882 the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, who said that "there is no one in this wide great world of America whom I love and honor so much".

A story of Whitman's later years, told by a publisher, reveals that the author never lost his self-esteem during his last years. Whitman had entered with his ruffled beard and sombrero the lobby of the Hotel Albert in New York and every man in it raised his newspaper to hide his face from Whitman. He turned and went out. The publisher, for some reason, followed him and asked who he was. The man said: "I am Walt Whitman. If you'll lend me a dollar, you will be helping immortality to stumble on." (from The March of Literature by Ford Madox Ford, 1938) Jorge Luis Borges has seen Whitman as the hero of his epic, a character he yearned to be: "Thus, on one page of the work, Whitman is born on Long Island; on others, in the South. Thus, in one of the mostly authentic sections of "Song of Myself," he relates a heroic episode of the Mexican War and says he heard the story told in Texas, a place he never went." (from The Total Library, 1999)

In 1881 there appeared a newly augmented edition of Leaves of Grass. The following year Whitman published SPECIMEN DAYS AND COLLECT, and in 1888 a collection of his newspaper pieces, NOVEMBER BOUGHS, was published. His final volume was the 'Deathbed' edition of Leaves of Grass, which he prepared in 1891-92. It concludes with the prose piece 'A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads', in which he attempts to explain his life and work. Whitman died on March 26, 1892, in Camden.

Whitman's wavelike verse and his fresh use of language helped to liberate American poetry. He wanted to be a national bard, his prophetic note echoed, among other books, the Bible, but his erotic candor separated him from conventionally romantic poets. He also boasted that he was 'non-literary and non-decorous' ? which perhaps was not really true. When he urged the Muse to forget the matter of Troy and develop new themes, he knew what the matter of Troy was.

Leaves of Grass was first presented as a group of 12 poems, and followed by five revised and three reissued editions during the author's lifetime. Whitman maintained that a poet's style should be simple and natural, without orthodox meter or rhyme. The poems were written to be spoken, but they have great variety in rhythm and tonal volume. The central theme arises from Whitman's pantheistic view of life, from symbolic identification of regeneration in nature.

Whitman's use of free verse has influenced generations of poets. He was a great inspiring example for the beat-generation (Ginsberg, Kerouac etc.). In the introduction of the work Whitman wrote: "The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters is simplicity. Nothing is better than simplicity... nothing can make up for excess or for the lack of definiteness. To carry on the heave of impulse and pierce intellectual depths and give all subjects their articulations are powers neither common nor very uncommon. But to speak in literature with the perfect rectitude and insouciance of the movements of animals and the unimpeachableness of the sentiment of trees in the woods and grass by the roadside is the flawless triumph of art."
Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008

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