Today we celebrate the bicentennial of the "Father of Free Verse," Walt Whitman's birthday. Whitman is arguably the most influential American poet of our history, well known for his lasting contribution, Leaves of Grass. The collection of poems was initially very controversial and heavily criticized for it's focus on human sensuality.
Some facts about Whitman:
-He was born in Long Island on May 31, 1819.
-He dropped out of school at 11 years old to help support his family.
-He was gay and his lover was an ex-confederate soldier.
-He was a humanist.
-He self-published his collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, and it was so controversial that he initially had to give the books away.
-He sent a copy of LoG to Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote a letter back saying that, "[Leaves of Grass is] the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed."
-Whitman published Emerson's letter to help garner support for LoG. (It worked.)
-Leaves of Grass is second only to the works of William Shakespeare in having the largest usage of vocabulary in the English language.
An excerpt from Song of Myself from Leaves of Grass:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
Houses and rooms are full of perfumes...the shelves are crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it...