The ClassicNote on Walt Whitman focuses on his most famous collection of poetry, Leaves of Grass. It was first published in 1855 and republished several times until its final edition, commonly known as the "Deathbed Edition" came out in 1891-1892. We have selected some of Whitman's most influential poems from that collection, each of which typifies a particular facet of the poet's masterful style. This curated selection offers the reader a broad perspective on Whitman and the time period in which he lived.
Whitman's Leaves of Grass is separated into thirty-five books. The majority of the twenty poems in this ClassicNote come from the following titles: Inscriptions, Starting from Paumanok, Children of Adam, Calamus, Drum Taps, and Songs of Parting. Whitman wrote most of these poems during the Civil War era. Clearly, there was a great deal of social and political turmoil in the United States at this time, and as a result, many of Whitman's poems urge humans to celebrate their shared experiences and inherent commonalities.
"I Hear America Singing" and "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" are both patriotic tributes to the American spirit. "O Captain! My Captain!," "Beat! Beat! Drums!," and "Ashes of Soldiers" are more contemplative, focusing on the deadly consequences of war. Thousands of soldiers sacrificed their lives and soon thereafter, President Lincoln was assassinated. "One's Self I Sing," "For Him I Sing" and "As I Ponder'd in Silence" are part of Whitman's Inscriptions section, in which he outlines his goals for the collection. "Thou Reader," which is at the end of Inscriptions, is a simple dedication to Whitman's readers.
"To You" and "To a Stranger" both address society's disapproval of strangers interacting for no reason. "O Me! O Life!," "Thoughts," and "A Noiseless Patient Spider," explore the purpose of life and the difficulty of making connections with other human beings. "I Sing the Body Electric" celebrates the sanctity of the human body," while "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" highlights the importance of nature in forging connections across time and space. Finally, in "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," Whitman differentiates between wisdom and knowledge, promoting the act of learning through experience. Many of Whitman's poems detail his journey of comprehension, through which he crafted a definitive and archetypal American narrative.