Walt Whitman

"I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."

Frontispiece to Leaves of Grass




  • Intellectualism over institutional religion
  • Self-reliance--the "Divine Soul which inspires all men" (Emerson in 1836)


  • Life as it is
  • Not romanticised


  • Power of individual (see self-reliance)
  • Empiricism and reason over faith and religion

Civil War

  • Initially a huge supporter: "Beat! Beat! Drums!"
  • Brother in Union army
  • Became a nurse for wounded soldiers, saw devastation: "unsurpass’d heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was equally brave;)" ("The Wound-Dresser")


  • Free verse: "Poetry that is based on the irregular rhythmic CADENCE or the recurrence, with variations, of phrases, images, and syntactical patterns rather than the conventional use of METER. Rhyme may or may not be present in free verse, but when it is, it is used with great freedom. In conventional verse the unit is the FOOT, or the line; in free verse the units are larger, sometimes being paragraphs or strophes. If the free verse unit is the line, as it is in Whitman, the line is determined by qualities of RHYTHM and thought rather than FEET or syllabic count." (UPenn)
  • Extremely long lyric ("Song of Myself" is 1136 lines long), but not narrative per se, or epic


You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,

And filter and fiber your blood.

("Song of Myself," section 52)

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