Walt Whitman

American poet and journalist Walt Whitman learned the printing trade as an apprentice on the Long Island Patriot. (1831-2) Later he became the editor of a weekly newspaper the Long Islander. (1838-9)

In 1841 he moved to New York to work as a compositor on The New World. Also contributed to Aurora, Evening Tattler, Statesman, and various other New York publications. Founded Brooklyn-based Weekly Freeman in 1848. The first edition of Leaves of Grass (poetry collection) was published in 1855. During the American Civil War he was a part-time clerk in the Army.

By 1865 he was working at the Indian Bureau at the Department of the Interior but he was fired for publishing “obscene poetry”. However, he was feted by many writers of the time including Swinburne and Tennyson. He suffered a stroke in 1873 and moved in with his brother George and was ill for several years after.

In 1882 he was visited by Oscar Wilde. The same year his anthology Leaves of Grass was withdrawn after complaints in Boston but sales mushroomed in other parts of the USA as a result.

In 1888 he had another stroke and was severely ill. It was around this time that his Calamus series of poems was declared to have homosexual overtones but Whitman denied the claim. He died in 1892.

From Spontaneous Me

The hairy wild-bee that murmurs and hankers up and down—
that gripes the full-grown lady-flower, curves upon her with amorous firm legs, takes his will of her, and holds himself tremulous and tight till he is satisfied.

 Extract from Song of Myself      

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.