WHITMAN was born in Westhills, Long Island, May 31, 1819, in a farm-house overlooking the sea. While yet a child his parents moved to Brooklyn, where he acquired his education. He learned type-setting at thirteen years of age. Two years later he taught a country school. He contributed to the “Democratic Review” before he was twenty-one years old. At thirty he traveled through the Western States, and spent one year in New Orleans editing a newspaper. Returning home he took up his father’s occupation of carpenter and builder, which he followed for a while. During the War of the Rebellion he spent most of his time in the hospitals and camps, in the relief of the sick and disabled soldiers. For a time he was a department clerk in Washington.
In 1856 he published a volume entitled “Leaves of Grass.” This volume shows unquestionable power, and great originality. His labors among the sick and wounded necessarily made great impressions; these took form in his mind and were published under the title of “Drum Taps.”
His poems lack much of the standard of recognized poetic measure. He has a style peculiar to himself, and his writings are full of meaning, beauty and interest. Of his productions, Underwood says: “Pupils who are accustomed to associate the idea of poetry with regular classic measure in rhyme, or in ten-syllabled blank verse or elastic hexameters, will commence these short and simple prose sentences with surprise, and will wonder how any number of them can form a poem. But let them read aloud with a mind in sympathy with the picture as it is displayed, and they will find by nature’s unmistakable responses, that the author was a poet, and possessed the poet’s incommunicable power to touch the heart.” He died in Camden, N. J., March 20, 1892.
Of a calm and cool fiat, sooner or later, (How impassive! How certain and final!)
Of the President with pale face, asking secretly to himself, What will the people say
Of the frivolous Judge—Of the corrupt Congressman, Governor, Mayor—Of such as
standing helpless and exposed;
Of the mumbling and screaming priest—(soon, soon deserted;)
Of the lessening, year by year, of venerableness, and of the dicta of officers, statutes,
Of the rising forever taller and stronger and broader, of the intuitions of men and women,
of self-esteem, and of personality;
—Of the New World—Of the Democracies, resplendent, en-masse;
Of the conformity of politics, armies, navies, to them and to me,
Of the shining sun by them—Of the inherent light, greater than the rest,
Of the envelopment of all by them, and of the effusion of all from them.