Walt Whitman has been claimed as the first "poet of democracy" in the United States, a title meant to reflect his ability to write in a singularly American character. An American-British friend of Walt Whitman, Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, wrote: "You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass ... He has expressed that civilization, 'up to date,' as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him." Andrew Carnegie called him "the great poet of America so far". Whitman considered himself a messiah-like figure in poetry. Others agreed: one of his admirers, William Sloane Kennedy, speculated that "people will be celebrating the birth of Walt Whitman as they are now the birth of Christ".
Literary critic Harold Bloom wrote, as the introduction for the 150th anniversary of Leaves of Grass:
If you are American, then Walt Whitman is your imaginative father and mother, even if, like myself, you have never composed a line of verse. You can nominate a fair number of literary works as candidates for the secular Scripture of the United States. They might include Melville's Moby-Dick, Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Emerson's two series of Essays and The Conduct of Life. None of those, not even Emerson's, are as central as the first edition of Leaves of Grass.
In his own time, Whitman attracted an influential coterie of disciples and admirers. Other admirers included the Eagle Street College, an informal group established in 1885 at the home of James William Wallace in Eagle Street, Bolton, to read and discuss the poetry of Whitman. The group subsequently became known as the Bolton Whitman Fellowship or Whitmanites. Its members held an annual "Whitman Day" celebration around the poet's birthday.
Whitman is one of the most influential American poets. Modernist poet Ezra Pound called Whitman "America's poet ... He is America." To poet Langston Hughes, who wrote, "I, too, sing America", Whitman was a literary hero. Whitman's vagabond lifestyle was adopted by the Beat movement and its leaders such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in the 1950s and 1960s as well as anti-war poets like Adrienne Rich, Alicia Ostriker, and Gary Snyder. Lawrence Ferlinghetti numbered himself among Whitman's "wild children", and the title of his 1961 collection Starting from San Francisco is a deliberate reference to Whitman's Starting from Paumanok. June Jordan published a pivotal essay, entitled "For the Sake of People's Poetry: Walt Whitman and the Rest of Us" praising Whitman as a democratic poet whose works to speak to people of color from all backgrounds. United States poet laureate Joy Harjo, who is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, counts Whitman among her influences.
Latin American poets
Whitman's poetry influenced Latin American and Caribbean poets in the 19th and 20th centuries, starting with Cuban poet, philosopher, and nationalist leader José Martí who published essays in Spanish on Whitman's writings in 1887. Álvaro Armando Vasseur's 1912 translations further raised Whitman's profile in Latin America. Peruvian vanguardist César Vallejo, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and Argentine Jorge Luis Borges acknowledged Walt Whitman's influence. Puerto Rican poet Giannina Braschi names Whitman in her multilingual manifesto "Pelos en la lengua" on what North and South American cultures have in common, especially in poetry.
Some, like Oscar Wilde and Edward Carpenter, viewed Whitman both as a prophet of a utopian future and of same-sex desire – the passion of comrades. This aligned with their own desires for a future of brotherly socialism. Whitman also influenced Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, and was a model for the character of Dracula. Stoker said in his notes that Dracula represented the quintessential male which, to Stoker, was Whitman, with whom he corresponded until Whitman's death.
Film and television
Whitman's life and verse have been referenced in a substantial number of works of film and video. In the movie Beautiful Dreamers (Hemdale Films, 1992) Whitman was portrayed by Rip Torn. Whitman visits an insane asylum in London, Ontario where some of his ideas are adopted as part of an occupational therapy program.
In Dead Poets Society (1989) by Peter Weir, teacher John Keating inspires his students with the works of Whitman, Shakespeare and John Keats.
Whitman's poem "Yonnondio" influenced both a book (Yonnondio: From the Thirties, 1974) by Tillie Olsen and a sixteen-minute film, Yonnondio (1994) by Ali Mohamed Selim.
Whitman's poem "I Sing the Body Electric" (1855) was used by Ray Bradbury as the title of a short story and a short story collection. Bradbury's story was adapted for the Twilight Zone episode of May 18, 1962, in which a bereaved family buys a made-to-order robot grandmother to forever love and serve the family. "I Sing the Body Electric" inspired the showcase finale in the movie Fame (1980), a diverse fusion of gospel, rock, and orchestra.
Music and audio recordings
Whitman's poetry has been set to music by a large number of composers; indeed it has been suggested his poetry has been set to music more than that of any other American poet except for Emily Dickinson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Those who have set his poems to music have included John Adams; Ernst Bacon; Leonard Bernstein; Benjamin Britten; Rhoda Coghill; David Conte; Ronald Corp; George Crumb; Frederick Delius; Howard Hanson; Karl Amadeus Hartmann; Hans Werner Henze; Paul Hindemith; Ned Rorem; Charles Villiers Stanford; Robert Strassburg; Ralph Vaughan Williams; Kurt Weill; Charles Wood; and Roger Sessions. Crossing, an opera composed by Matthew Aucoin and inspired by Whitman's Civil War diaries, premiered in 2015.
In 2014, German publisher Hörbuch Hamburg issued the bilingual double-CD audio book of the Kinder Adams/Children of Adam cycle, based on translations by Kai Grehn in the 2005 Children of Adam from Leaves of Grass (Galerie Vevais), accompanying a collection of nude photography by Paul Cava. The audio release included a complete reading by Iggy Pop, as well as readings by Marianne Sägebrecht; Martin Wuttke; Birgit Minichmayr; Alexander Fehling; Lars Rudolph; Volker Bruch; Paula Beer; Josef Osterndorf; Ronald Lippok; Jule Böwe; and Robert Gwisdek. In 2014 composer John Zorn released On Leaves of Grass, an album inspired by and dedicated to Whitman.
The Walt Whitman Bridge, which crosses the Delaware River near his home in Camden, was opened on May 16, 1957. In 1997, the Walt Whitman Community School in Dallas opened, becoming the first private high school catering to LGBT youth. His other namesakes include Walt Whitman High School (Bethesda, Maryland), Walt Whitman High School (Huntington Station, New York), the Walt Whitman Shops (formerly called "Walt Whitman Mall") in Huntington Station, Long Island, New York, near his birthplace, and Walt Whitman Road located in Huntington Station and Melville, New York.
Whitman was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2009, and, in 2013, he was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display that celebrates LGBT history and people.
A statue of Whitman by Jo Davidson is located at the entrance to the Walt Whitman Bridge and another casting resides in the Bear Mountain State Park.
A coed summer camp founded in 1948 in Piermont, New Hampshire is named after Whitman.
A crater on Mercury is also named for him.