Walt Whitman is considered one of the best and most influential of the 1800s and the Americas. Whitman’s love for America and democracy is what truly made him into one of the best, even till this day, poets in the world.(Costanzo) Whitman had many poems about his life, the civil war, love, America, and many more. Whitman’s poetry was heavily based on the period that he lived which was the civil war.
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Whitman uses poetry to reflect on his feelings, his life, and also his impact on the poetry in the Americas, these pieces include O Captain! My Captain!, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and A Noiseless Patient Spider.
Walt Whitman’s early life was fascinating. Whitman, born on May 31, 1819, Whitman was originally from Long Island(Costanzo). Whitman moved to Brooklyn when he was only six years old for his father to find work. Unfortunately, Whitman’s father was not able to find work, because of this Whitman’s father took him out of school and into work to make an income for the sizeable ten-person family. Whitman began to work at a Brooklyn attorney office when he was only eleven.
Whitman became a teacher at the age of seventeen, despite Whitman’s passion for writing. Whitman still being young quit his teaching job and went back Long Island to become a journalist(Costanzo). However, Whitman just a few years later found himself without a job and went back to the city.(Costanzo) Whitman was hired for the Brooklyn Daily Newspaper as an editor and covered some controversial writing. This is what sparked Whitman’s idea of becoming a writer. But this also came with a downfall due to these topics Whitman had a reputation and not a good one, Whitman kept losing his jobs due to these topics and was never financially or emotionally stable. Keep in mind Whitman was only about twenty-five in this period. Since Whitman was still very young, he was emotionally unstable throughout his late twenties early thirties. This can also be because many people believe that Whitman was bi-sexual or even homosexual. In 1800 being gay is very frowned upon so him not being able to tell someone must have taken a toll emotionally on Whitman.
Whitman’s later life was very drama-filled and did a number on Whitman’s family. Whitman in 1855 began and finished a poetry book named Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman Biography). This let Whitman Find his true voice and style of writing(Walt Whitman Biography) Whitman’s Family has split apart due to the civil war. In the year 1862 Whitman went to Fredericksburg to search for his brother George (Walt Whitman Biography). Whitman’s Brother fought for the union and was being treated there for his injuries. Whitman moved to Washington, D.C. the next year and found part-time work in the paymaster’s office, spending much of the rest of his time visiting wounded soldiers.(Walt Whitman Biography) The volunteering work that Whitman did changed his life(Walt Whitman Biography).
By his rough estimates, Whitman made 600 hospital visits and saw anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 patients. The work took a toll physically, but also propelled him to return to poetry. (Walt Whitman Biography) This did change his life, soon after his volunteer work, he released a collection known as Drum-Taps. This collection showed the civil war in all of its horror. Whitman showed people why war was hurting this country and not helping it, he made people realize the impacts that war has on families and relationships. Even after the war was over Whitman continued to help wounded veterans.
While doing this he met a young man named Peter Doyal, a young Confederate soldier and train car conductor. Whitman, who had a quiet history of becoming close with younger men amidst a time of great taboo around homosexuality, developed an instant and intense romantic bond with Doyle. (Walt Whitman Biography) During the mid-1860’s Whitman had found a job in Washington as a clerk in the Indian Bureau of the Department of the Interior. He continued to pursue literary projects, and in 1870 he published two new collections, Democratic Vistas, and Passage to India, along with the fifth edition of Leaves of Grass.(Walt Whitman Biography) Whitman in 1873 suffered from a stroke which left half of his body paralyzed. A few months after the stroke he traveled to Camden, New Jersey (Walt Whitman Biography). Whitman in his final years was happy but also frustrated with his work, he knew his life was coming to an end and he wanted to continue working on all of his pieces Unfortunately, March 26, 1892, is when Whitman passed because of pleurisy.
In the very famous poem O Captain!My Captain! Whitman uses a lot of symbolism to show the civil war in all of its horror. Whitman greatly admired Abraham Lincoln. He wrote O Captain! My Captain!” in honor of the president in 1865, shortly after Lincoln’s assassination. Whitman saw Lincoln as the greatest and most moral person in the country, (Hearst Seattle Media). Whitman praised Lincoln for being an average American who was able to unite this country, this is why Whitman chose Lincoln to be his captain (Hearst Seattle Media). In the first line of Whitman’s work, the speaker says that he and his captain reached the end of the fearful trip, which is a reference to the Civil War. In the second and third stanzas, the speaker refers to Lincoln as his father, as though the late president’s efforts had brought the country together as a family. (Hearst Seattle media) Whitman writes about his admiration for Lincoln, all of the stanzas include something that the speaker admires about his captain.
Not only did Whitman use the captain as symbolism, but he also used the ship which was weathered and torn in half. The ship in Whitman’s poem symbolizes the United States. Just as a ship endures turbulent winds while on the water, the country survived the hardships and sacrifices of the Civil War. The speaker says that they won the prize that they sought during their voyage. The prize represents the peaceful reunification of the Northern and Southern states. (Hearst Seattle media) Both of these symbols are heald deep inside of Whitman’s heart, The war has affected America and Whitman personally and he wants to show that in his work. The ship’s anchor is also a significant symbol in the poem, it symbolizes the end of the civil war(Hearst Seattle media).
Whitman makes sure to show the end of the war to teach the reader that tomorrow will always be a better day and hardships might be here now but eventually, good times will come again. Another of the significant symbolism Whitman make sure the reader knows that the people in the second stanza who welcomed the ship are the people who supported and praised Lincoln and were happy that the most bloody war in American history was coming to an end (Hearst Seattle media).
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