I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
– Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitman was one of the most influential poets of the 19th century. Completely self-educated, Whitman read the works of Homer, Shakespeare and Dante as a child. At age 16 he became a school teacher and founded a newspaper at the age of 19. In 1840, Whitman had his first novel published and several short stories. In 1855, Whitman published Leaves of Grass – the work for which he is certainly best known. The collection of poems in Leaves of Grass are celebrations of the harmony between the human body, spirit, and senses, in combination with the natural world. “Song of Myself”, “I sing the Body Electric”, and “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” are among the most highly regarded of the poems in Leaves of Grass. Walt Whitman had great admiration for Abraham Lincoln and dedicated the poem made famous in the movie Dead Poets Society, “Oh Captain, My Captain”, to the fallen president in Leaves of Grass. Today, Whitman remains inspirational to modern day poets not just in America, but in Latin America and France as well. Below is Whitman’s famous poem inspired by Abraham Lincoln: Oh Captain! My Captain!
O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up-for you the flag is flung-for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths-for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse or will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.