As a poet, essayist, and journalist, Walt Whitman devoted his life to writing. Since his birth on the 31st of May 1819 in New York City to the 26th of April 1892 when he was buried in the coffin he designed himself, he published a vast number of poems. Among his most commonly known are Leaves of Grass, O’ Captain, My Captain, and Song of Myself.
On a personal level, Whitman had the heart of a writer. Being born and raised in New York City alongside seven siblings, hardships and trials were many in number. Whitman was able to overcome such times because of his love and escape of writing. When only eleven years old, Whitman was removed from public school due to lack of financial resources. He relied on himself to further his education from then on, self-teaching himself. In an attempt to help his family’s financial situation, Whitman began working as an office boy which led him to become a printer for a local newspaper. He even went on to become a teacher for five years on Long Island until he moved back to his birthplace to pursue printing and writing once more.
As Whitman began to write fiction and poetry, he also began publishing journalism. In his journalism, he publicly took very radical and uncommon positions on matters such as labor issues, women’s property rights, capital punishment, and immigration. Such writing put him in an almost constant opposition to society and their prevailing sentiments. In 1845, Whitman moved back to Brooklyn to write for newspapers there. In February of 1848 he and his brother even traveled to New Orleans where he was offered a job for another newspaper company. Whitman accepted but only worked briefly, as he returned to Brooklyn in May of that same year.
The first very significant newspaper Whitman started and used to emit new ideas into society was the Brooklyn Weekly Freeman. Through this, Whitman advocated the “free soil” position, a nickname for a position that would claim that new states that were entering the Union should declare slavery as illegal. From there, Whitman would go on to run a printing office, stationary store, do freelance writing, and build homes from 1850-1854. In 1855, the first edition of Whitman’s ever famous Leaves of Grass was published, but not under his name.
The next few years of his life were spent writing for newspapers and releasing a second edition of Leaves of Grass. It wasn’t until 1863 that Whitman’s pace changed and he found a passion and talent caring and comforting wounded soldiers in the Civil War. After retiring from his military nursing job, Whitman became passionate about President Lincoln. He attended both Lincoln’s second inaugural speech address and the comedic play at Ford’s Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated. He later wrote a poem called When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d that was inspired by the deceased president.
In 1867, Whitman released his fourth edition of Leaves of Grass and in 1870 published the fifth edition along with two of his other works; Democratic Vistas, and Passage to India. 1873 brought trials to Whitman’s life as he suffered two strokes over the course of two years that affected both sides of his body. After this, Whitman’s friends and disciples celebrated him with a party before Whitman published the final edition of Leaves of Grass in 1892 before he died.