New Poetic Form - Whitman

In the literary world between 1855 and 1865, a period of transition occurred when no new movements developed. However, the wartime era did produce Walt Whitman, one of the most important and influential poets in the history of American literature. While the country was being torn apart by war, Whitman was reaffirming the principles upon which the country was founded by expressing American democratic ideals in his poetry.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

  • Rejected conventional themes, forms, subjects
  • Used long lines to capture the rhythm of natural speech, free verse
  • Use everyday vocabulary in free verse
  • Considered America's finest 19th century poet
  • Whitman has been described as a: democrat, patriot, metaphysicist, nature poet, lover, and a free spirit
  • Themes: nature, war, love and separation, human sexuality, self-realization
  • Published his poems in an ever enlarging work entitled Leaves of Grass

    Beat! beat! drums!

    Beat! beat! drums! -- blow! bugles! blow!
    Through the windows -- through doors -- burst like a ruthless force,
    Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
    Into the school where the scholar is studying;
    Leave not the bridegroom quiet -- no happiness must he have now with his bride,
    Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
    So fierce you whirr and pound you drums -- so shrill you bugles blow.

    Beat! beat! drums! -- blow! bugles! blow!
    Over the traffic of cities -- over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
    Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
    No bargainers' bargains by day -- no brokers or speculators -- would they continue?
    Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
    Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
    Then rattle quicker, heavier drums -- you bugles wilder blow.

    Beat! beat! drums! -- blow! bugles! blow!
    Make no parley -- stop for no expostulation,
    Mind not the timid -- mind not the weeper or prayer,
    Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
    Let not the child's voice be heard, nor the mother's entreaties,
    Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
    So strong you thump O terrible drums -- so loud you bugles blow.


    Why, who makes much of a miracle?
    As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
    Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
    Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
    Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
    Or stand under trees in the woods,
    Or talk by day with anyone I love, or sleep in the bed at night with anyone I love,
    Or sit at the table at dinner with the rest,
    Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
    Or watch honeybees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
    Or animals feeding in the fields,
    Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
    Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
    Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
    These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
    The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
    To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
    Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
    Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
    Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
    To me the sea is a continual miracle,
    The fishes that swim-the rocks-the motion of the waves-the ships with men in them,
    What stranger miracles are there?

    A noiseless patient spider

    A noiseless patient spider,
    I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
    Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
    It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
    Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

    And you O my soul where you stand,
    Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
    Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
    Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
    Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

    O 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 nor 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.

    Vigil strange I kept on the field one night

    Vigil strange I kept on the field one night;
    When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day,
    One look I but gave which your dear eyes return'd with a look I shall never forget,
    One touch of your hand to mine O boy, reach'd up as you lay on the ground,
    Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested battle,
    Till late in the night reliev'd to the place at last again I made my way,
    Found you in death so cold dear comrade, found your body son of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,)
    Bared your face in the starlight, curious the scene, cool blew the moderate night-wind,
    Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battle-field spreading,
    Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet there in the fragrant silent night,
    But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh, long, long I gazed,
    Then on the earth partially reclining sat by your side leaning my chin in my hands,
    Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you dearest comrade -- not a tear, not a word,
    Vigil of silence, love and death, vigil for you my son and my soldier,
    As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole,
    Vigil final for you brave boy, (I could not save you, swift was your death,
    I faithfully loved you and cared for you living, I think we shall surely meet again,)
    Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the dawn appear'd,
    My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop'd well his form,
    Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head and carefully under feet,
    And there and then and bathed by the rising sun, my son in his grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited,
    Ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and battle-field dim,
    Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,)
    Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget, how as day brighten'd,
    I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his blanket,
    And buried him where he fell.

    When I heard the learn'd astronomer

    When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
    When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
    When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
    When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
    How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
    Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
    In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
    Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.