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The Life of Walt Whitman

Dec 04, 2008

Born on May 31, 1819 in West Hills, Town of Huntington on Long Island, New York, Walt Whitman is probably recognized as one of the most famous poets in American history. However, in addition to his work as a poet, Whitman was also a journalist, teacher, government clerk and a volunteer nurse during the Civil War.

Whitman was the second oldest of nine children and due to some difficult economic conditions the family moved to Brooklyn when he was four years old. The family continued to struggle with making ends meet and at the age of eleven, Walt Whitman finished his formal education . At the early age, Whitman took a job as an office boy for a law firm and later became an apprentice for a Long Island newspaper. While at the paper, he learned the art of typesetting and the printing industry. He also had the opportunity to occasionally write small filler articles when the paper had space available.

Over the course of the next several years, Whitman worked for several newspapers and printers . He took a number of jobs within the industries and honed his craft during his tenure. He also began writing for the newspapers, and developed his passion for the written word during this time frame. Also, for a period of time in the late 1830's and early 1840's, Whitman accepted teaching positions in the Long Island area.

In 1855, Whitman combined his printing and writing experience by writing and publishing Leaves of Grass, which was a collection of twelve untitled poems. In 1856, Whitman published a second edition, which contained thirty three poems. During his remaining years as a poet, Whitman continued to work on this poetry collection and released five more editions with the same title. Walt Whitman was a very prolific poet and has written some well known poems such as Among the Multitude , Oh Captain! My Captain! (which was written about President Lincoln) and To a Stranger .

With the Civil War beginning, Walt Whitman was an ardent supporter of the Union Army and as a rallying cry, wrote Beat! Beat! Drums! In December 1862, upon seeing a listing of wounded soldiers in the paper, Whitman believed one of the names belonged to his brother. Concerned, Whitman traveled to Washington to try and find his brother. During the journey, Whitman saw many wounded and dead soldiers and this had an effect on him. When he finally found his brother alive, with only minor injuries, Whitman stayed in the Washington area and despite not having official nursing training, began volunteering his time as a part-time Nurse. His experiences as a nurse was recounted in a newspaper article titled The Great Army of the Sick and in the book Memoranda During the War.

After the war, Whitman held several government positions in the Department of the Interior, the Attorney General's Office and even as an entry level clerk in the Department of Indian Affairs. He held various government jobs until 1873 when a stroke forced him to leave. Walt Whitman moved to Camden, New Jersey and lived there until his death on March 26, 1892.

Walt Whitman was one of the greatest American poets, but also was involved in the newspaper, printing, teaching, nursing and clerical professions, and left his mark in all areas of involvement.

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