Walt Whitman, Poet of the Self


ENG 223: American Literature Before 1865

Lesson 14: Walt Whitman, Poet of the Self
Nov. 18-22, 2002


By the end of this lesson, you should be able to do each of the following without consulting notes or other resources:

  • Describe the life and literary contributions of Walt Whitman and Jones Very.
  • Interpret themes and other features in Whitman’s poetry.
  • Define or identify relevant terms, names, and dates.


Before coming to class on Monday, you should complete the following assignments:


Read “Walt Whitman” (2127-2131), “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” “Once I Pass’d through a Populous City,” “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” and “Cavalry Crossing a Ford” (2220).


Post your complete portfolio on your Web site.


Our class activities this week include the following:


Think Fast: Respond to “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” with a letter or poem back to Whitman.

Presentation: Walt Whitman, Poet of the Self (Professor Canada)

Cooperative Learning: Explicate one of the four poems you read for this week.

Presentation: Jones Very (Jadelyn Locklear)

Discussion: During this time, we will discuss the insights and questions that have emerged during our reading, “Think Fast” exercise, my presentation, and cooperative learning.

Announcements: We will wrap up this lesson with announcements regarding upcoming lessons, as well as other relevant subjects.

Names and Terms

Make sure you know the meaning and significance of the following term:

  • free verse


You can find more information about the subject covered in this lesson by consulting the print or electronic resources listed below:


All American: Walt Whitman features a biographical sketch of Whitman, commentary on his literature, and a chronology of his life, along with lists of his major works, family members, homes, and occupations. 

Updated November 15, 2002
Mark Canada, 2002


Having studied Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, we turn now to another writer who valued both the self and nature: Walt Whitman.  Please note that your portfolios are due on the World Wide Web at 8 a.m. Monday, November 18.


“I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said when Walt Whitman’s first edition of Leaves of Grass appeared in 1855.  That book was indeed the start of something big.  Over the next three decades, Whitman would revise and republish it again and again, ultimately giving America some of its greatest poems: “Song of Myself,” “Passage to India,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” and others.  He would leave a deep impression on many other writers, from Alfred, Lord Tennyson to Allen Ginsberg and beyond.  While his greatest contribution to literature may be his revolutionary development of free verse, he also wrote brilliant poetry remarkable in its own right, particularly in its use of persona and its treatment of a myriad of themes, including the individual, nature, and desire.


Leaving Whitman, we turn in our next lesson to another poet of the mid-nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson.