.. y became preoccupied with the soul, death, and immortality. He turned 45, shortly after the war. On his birthday, he wrote letters to soldiers he helped during the war. (Kaplan, Justin- page 323). He received many thank you letters from the soldiers and their families because of the great things he did for them. Whitman was devastated by the death of President Abraham Lincoln and his reflections and tribute to the “great leader” were found in the poems, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomd” and “OCaptain, My Captain.” (Lowen, Nancy- pages 29-30).
Whitman described Lincoln as the most “satisfactory thing I have ever seen, and I have seen hundreds of different ones.” These poems showed the world how great of a”captain” Lincoln was. In, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomd,” Whitman said each spring the blooming lilac will remind him not only of the death of Lincoln, but also of the eternal return to life. In, “OCaptain My Captain,” Whitman called Lincoln “dear father!” (A Treasury of the Worlds Best Loved Poems- 151). This was to show the world how Lincoln was more than just a President; he was the father of the United States of America. These poems directly reflected his love for his country and one of its greatest leaders.
“O Captain, My Captain” indicated the impact Whitman had, and still has, on American society. (Kaplan, Justin- 228). Most recently, the movie Dead Poets Society used the Lincoln-inspired poem to make a point. Whitman believed three events helped bring mankind together. ONE, the completion of the Union Pacific railroad. TWO, the spanning of the continental United States of America and the Suez Canal (connecting Europe to Asia).
And THREE, the Atlantic Cable (connecting America to Europe). (Encyclopedia of World Biography- page 251). From 1884 to 1865, he edited everything he had written in his life. He ripped out pages and changed many things. (Encyclopedia of World Biography- page 252). He moved into a small apartment and hired an old widow to care for him.
Whitman wrote Democratic Vistas in 1871. This book became his most important prose work. It showed the corruption of Reconstruction. In 1873, after Whitman had a stroke, he was given the endearing nickname, the “Good Grey Poet” by William OConnor. (Encyclopedia of World Biography- page 252). In May of that year, Whitmans mother died and he had become very depressed.
He moved in with his brother in New Jersey, only to become more depressed and move in with the Stafford family. Whitman struggled to support himself through most of his life. In Washington, he lived on a clerk’s salary and modest royalties. He spent any excess money, including gifts from friends, to buy supplies for the patients he nursed. (Current, Williams, and Freidel- page 293). He also sent money to his widowed mother and an invalid brother.
From time to time writers both in the states and in England sent him “purses” of money so he could get by. Whitman spent the last years of his life crippled form his stroke and living in the squalor of Camden New Jersey. (Kaplan, Justin- page 11). The last creative thing Whitman did was designing his own tomb. He did on March 26, 1892, at the age of 72 years and he is buried in the Walt Whitman Cemetery, along with fifteen other members of his family.
At his funeral, a friend had said, “[Whitman was] A great man, a great American, the most eminent citizen of this Republic. He laid the foundations of it deep in the human heart and brain. He was, above all, I have known, the poet of humanity, of sympathy. He never claimed to be lower or greater than any of the sons of men. He came into our generation a free, untrammeled spirit, with sympathy for all. His arm was beneath the form of the sick.
He sympathized with the imprisoned and despised and even on the brow of crime he was great enough to place the kiss of human sympathy. His charity was as wide as the sky, and wherever there was human suffering, human misfortune, and the sympathy of Whitman bent above it as the firmament bends above the earth. He walked among men, among writers, among verbal varnishers and veneerers, among literary milliners and tailors, with the unconscious majesty of an antique God. He was the poet of that divine democracy which gives equal rights to all the sons and daughters of men. He uttered the great American voice; uttered a song worthy of the great Republic.
No man ever said more for the rights of humanity, more in favor of real democracy, of real justice. He was the poet of life, he was the poet of love, he was the poet of death, and he was the poet of the natural. He was not only the poet of democracy, not only the poet of the great Republic, but he was the Poet of the human race. He stretched out his hand and felt himself the equal of all kings and of all princes, and the brother of all men, no matter how high, no matter how low.” (Current, Williams, Friedel- pages 292-283). His friend said these words of praise to illustrate how Whitman was truly a great man.
Whitman loved his country. Some say there was no one more nationalistic than Whitman. (Lowen, Nancy- page 31). The poet’s love for his country grew from his faith that Americans might reach new worldly and spiritual heights. He had said, “The chief reason for being the United States of America is to bring about the common goodwill of all mankind and the solidarity of the world.
The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.” His work boldly asserted the worth of the individual and the oneness of all humanity. Whitmans break from traditional poetic styles exerted a major influence on American thought and literature. Today, Whitman’s poetry has been translated into every major language. He has had over 2000 poems published. It was widely recognized as a formative influence on the work of such American writers as Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens. Allen Ginsberg in particular was inspired by Whitman’s bold treatment of sexuality.
Many modern scholars have sought to assess Whitman’s life and literary career. (Encyclopedia of World Biography- page 251). Bibliography Current, Richard N., Freidel, Frank, and Williams, T. Harry. American History: A Survey.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971. Pages 292-293 Encyclopedia of Biography: Volume 16. “Walt Whitman.” New York: Gale Research Publications, 1998. Pages 249-251 Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.
Pages 124-145, 202-222, 270-303 Lowen, Nancy. Voices in Poetry: Walt Whitman. Minnesota: Creative Editions, 1994 Various. A Treasury of the Worlds Best Loved Poems. New York: Avenel Books, 1951. Pages 143-161 Webster, Orville III.
50 Famous Americans. Los Angeles: JBG Publishing, 1991. Pages 122-124.