Walt Whitman was a follower of the two Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson and
Henry David Thoreau. He believed in Emerson and Thoreaus Trascendentalist beliefs.
Whitman believed that individualism stems from listening to ones inner voice and that ones
life is guided by ones intuition. The Transcendentalist centered on the divinity of each
individual; but this divinity could be self-discovered only if the person had the independence of
mind to do so. Whitman lent himself to this concept of independence. He once said,Everything
on earth has the divine spark within and thus is all part of a whole.(web.pg2trans.) This
philosophy of individualism led to an optimistic emphasis on society.Because Whitman
immodestly praised the human body and glorified the senses, Walt Whitmans poems assert the
worth of the individual and the oneness of all humanity.
Walt Whitman was an American poet who was born on May 31, 1819, near Huntington,
N.Y. He was the second of a family of nine children. His father was a carpenter and his mother,
who he a had a close relationship,was a housewife. When he was four years old, his family
moved to Brooklyn, where he attended public school for six years before being apprenticed to a
printer. In 1835 he began teaching in country schools. After several yrs. spent at various jobs,
including building houses, he began writing a new kind of poetry and thereafter neglected
business. Shortly after, in 1955 Whitman issued the first of many editions of Leaves of Grass, a
volume of poetry in a new kind of versification, far different from his sentimental rhymed verse
of the 1840s.
Whitmans first poem in Leaves of Grass is called Song of Myself. In this poem
Whitman writes about himself and as is characteristic of Whitman, the self becomes a
metaphor for humanity as a whole. Whitman came to no conclusion and does not satisfy the
readers of this poem. In Song of Myself Whitman tells us that the absolute unity of matter and
spirit, and all which that unity involves, is the dominant conception of this first and most
characteristic period. Whitman said, The true poet is not the follower of beauty, but the august
of beauty. (pg 362 Crit). Whitmans Song of Myself was capable of making whoever withes
to be so, wiser, happier, better; and it does these not by acting on the intelect, by telling us what
is best for us, what we ought to do and avoid doing, but by acting directly on the moral nature
itself, and elevating and purifying that.
Song of Myself is the most complete utterance of Whitmans first great conception of
life.No innovations must be permitted on the stern severities of out liberty and our
equality.(web.page 2 USR) That was the message that Whitman was trying to get through to
people by reading his poems. In most of Whitmans poems including Song of Myself
Whitman appears to be surrounded by women and children, and by young men, and by common
objects and qualities. He gives to each just what belongs to it, neither more or less. The person
nearest him, that person he ushers hand in hand with himself. Song of Myself was the poem
that I believe revieled the most about Whitmans attitude and beliefs. In Song of Myself
Whitman celebrates individuality and his beliefs of the existence of a shared universal self or
soul. This also showes how he really believed in Transcendentalism which stated stong intense
individualism and self-reliance. Critics who didnt believe in Whitmans beliefs rejected his
optimistic outlook on humanity and life. They declared such optimism naive and unrealistic.
They felt humans were depraved and had to stuggle for goodness. They feared the people who
desired complete individualism would give into the worse angles of mans nature. They viewed
Whitmans Transcendentalism as selfish and impractal.
Whitmans Leaves of Grass was made up of 11 other poems that were just as
inconclusive as Song of Myself. They were all written to express Whitmans belief of
Transcendentalism. In the Leaves of Grass are the facts of eternity and immortality, largely
treated. Leaves of Grass was an attemped, as they are, of a naive, masculine, and affectionate
person, to cast into literature not only his own grit and arrogance, but his own flesh and form.
His whole work, his life, manners, friendlyships, writings, all have among their leading purposes
an evident purpose to stamp a new type of character, namely