A two for one: If its walls were iron, yet would I take it! If these walls were butter, yet would I hold them! It's even more badass when it rhymes in the original Russian:
Talking Back to Whitman Family Origins Walt Whitman, arguably America's most influential and innovative poet, was born into a working class family in West Hills on Long Island, on May 31,just thirty years after George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the newly formed United States.
Walt Whitman was named after his father, a carpenter and farmer who was 34 years old when Whitman was born.
Trained as a carpenter but struggling to find work, he had taken up farming by the time Walt was born, but when Walt was just about to turn four, Walter Sr.
One of Walt's favorite stories about his childhood concerned the time General Lafayette visited New York and, selecting the six-year-old Walt from the crowd, lifted him up and carried him. Whitman later came to view this event as a kind of laying on of hands, the French hero of the American Revolution anointing the future poet of democracy in the energetic city of immigrants, where the new nation was being invented day by day.
Walt Whitman is thus of the first generation of Americans who were born in the newly formed United States and grew up assuming the stable existence of the new country.
Pride in the emergent nation was rampant, and Walter Sr.
Only the youngest son, Edwardwho was mentally and physically handicapped, carried a name that tied him to neither the family's nor the country's history. Whitman's father was a stern and sometimes hot-tempered man, maybe an alcoholic, whom Whitman respected but for whom he never felt a great deal of affection.
His mother, on the other hand, served throughout his life as his emotional touchstone. There was a special affectional bond between Whitman and his mother, and the long correspondence between them records a kind of partnership in attempting to deal with the family crises that mounted over the years, as Jesse became mentally unstable and violent and eventually had to be institutionalized, as Hannah entered a disastrous marriage with an abusive husband, as Andrew became an alcoholic and married a prostitute before dying of ill health in his 30s, and as Edward required increasingly dedicated care.
Walt loved living close to the East River, where as a child he rode the ferries back and forth to New York Cityimbibing an experience that would remain significant for him his whole life: The act of crossing became, for Whitman, one of the most evocative events in his life—at once practical, enjoyable, and mystical.
The daily commute suggested the passage from life to death to life again and suggested too the passage from poet to reader to poet via the vehicle of the poem. By crossing Brooklyn ferry, Whitman first discovered the magical commutations that he would eventually accomplish in his poetry.
While in Brooklyn, Whitman attended the newly founded Brooklyn public schools for six years, sharing his classes with students of a variety of ages and backgrounds, though most were poor, since children from wealthy families attended private schools.
In Whitman's school, all the students were in the same room, except African Americans, who had to attend a separate class on the top floor. Whitman had little to say about his rudimentary formal schooling, except that he hated corporal punishment, a common practice in schools and one that he would attack in later years in both his journalism and his fiction.
But most of Whitman's meaningful education came outside of school, when he visited museums, went to libraries, and attended lectures. He always recalled the first great lecture he heard, when he was ten years old, given by the radical Quaker leader Elias Hicks, an acquaintance of Whitman's father and a close friend of Whitman's grandfather Jesse.
While Whitman's parents were not members of any religious denomination, Quaker thought always played a major role in Whitman's life, in part because of the early influence of Hicks, and in part because his mother Louisa's family had a Quaker background, especially Whitman's grandmother Amy Williams Van Velsorwhose death—the same year Whitman first heard Hicks—hit young Walt hard, since he had spent many happy days at the farm of his grandmother and colorful grandfather, Major Cornelius Van Velsor.
Visiting his grandparents on Long Island was one of Whitman's favorite boyhood activities, and during those visits he developed his lifelong love of the Long Island shore, sensing the mystery of that territory where water meets land, fluid melds with solid.
One of Whitman's greatest poems, "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," is on one level a reminiscence of his boyhood on the Long Island shore and of how his desire to be a poet arose in that landscape.
The idyllic Long Island countryside formed a sharp contrast to the crowded energy of the quickly growing Brooklyn-New York City urban center.
Whitman's experiences as a young man alternated between the city and the Long Island countryside, and he was attracted to both ways of life. This dual allegiance can be traced in his poetry, which is often marked by shifts between rural and urban settings.
Self-Education and First Career By the age of eleven, Whitman was done with his formal education by this time he had far more schooling than either of his parents had receivedand he began his life as a laborer, working first as an office boy for some prominent Brooklyn lawyers, who gave him a subscription to a circulating library, where his self-education began.
Always an autodidact, Whitman absorbed an eclectic but wide-ranging education through his visits to museums, his nonstop reading, and his penchant for engaging everyone he met in conversation and debate.
While most other major writers of his time enjoyed highly structured, classical educations at private institutions, Whitman forged his own rough and informal curriculum of literature, theater, history, geography, music, and archeology out of the developing public resources of America's fastest growing city.
InWhitman became an apprentice on the Long Island Patriot, a liberal, working-class newspaper, where he learned the printing trade and was first exposed to the excitement of putting words into print, observing how thought and event could be quickly transformed into language and immediately communicated to thousands of readers.
At the age of twelve, young Walt was already contributing to the newspaper and experiencing the exhilaration of getting his own words published.
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Whitman's first signed article, in the upscale New York Mirror inexpressed his amazement at how there were still people alive who could remember "the present great metropolitan city as a little dorp or village; all fresh and green as it was, from its beginning," and he wrote of a slave, "Negro Harry," who had died in at age and who could remember New York "when there were but three houses in it.
Living away from home—the rest of his family moved back to the West Hills area inleaving fourteen-year-old Walt alone in the city—and learning how to set type under the Patriot's foreman printer William Hartshorne, Whitman was gaining skills and experiencing an independence that would mark his whole career: These early years on his own in Brooklyn and New York remained a formative influence on his writing, for it was during this time that he developed the habit of close observation of the ever-shifting panorama of the city, and a great deal of his journalism, poetry, and prose came to focus on catalogs of urban life and the history of New York City, Brooklyn, and Long Island.
Walt's brother Thomas Jeffersonknown to everyone in the family as "Jeff," was born during the summer ofsoon after his family had resettled on a farm and only weeks after Walt had joined the crowds in Brooklyn that warmly welcomed the newly re-elected president, Andrew Jackson.
Brother Jeff, fourteen years younger than Walt, would become the sibling he felt closest to, their bond formed when they traveled together to New Orleans inwhen Jeff was about the same age as Walt was when Jeff was born.
But while Jeff was a young child, Whitman spent little time with him."The more numerous your enemies, the greater your honor." // Charles X Gustavus of Sweden. Under his lifetime he was nearly constantly at war, fighting Denmark, Russia and Poland at the same time (gaining nearly half of Denmark's territory and inflicting enough damage on Poland so that the Poles could only win a Pyrrhic Victory) while also mopping up in Germany, so he should know.
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