Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was an American poet, best known for his work Leaves of Grass.

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  • It is a beautiful truth that all men contain something of the artist in them. And perhaps it is the case that the greatest artists live and die, the world and themselves alike ignorant what they possess. Who would not mourn that an ample palace, of surpassingly graceful architecture, fill’d with luxuries, and embellish’d with fine pictures and sculpture, should stand cold and still and vacant, and never be known or enjoy’d by its owner? Would such a fact as this cause your sadness? Then be sad. For there is a palace, to which the courts of the most sumptuous kings are but a frivolous patch, and, though it is always waiting for them, not one of its owners ever enters there with any genuine sense of its grandeur and glory.
    I think of few heroic actions, which cannot be traced to the artistical impulse. He who does great deeds, does them from his innate sensitiveness to moral beauty.

  • Talk not so much, then, young artist, of the great old masters, who but painted and chisell’d. Study not only their productions. There is a still higher school for him who would kindle his fire with coal from the altar of the loftiest and purest art. It is the school of all grand actions and grand virtues, of heroism, of the death of patriots and martyrs — of all the mighty deeds written in the pages of history — deeds of daring, and enthusiasm, devotion, and fortitude.
    • "Talk to an Art-Union (A Brooklyn fragment)"

  • In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing "base", a certain game of ball...Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms...the game of ball is glorious.

  • I have just this moment heard from the front — there is nothing yet of a movement, but each side is continually on the alert, expecting something to happen.
    O Mother, to think that we are to have here soon what I have seen so many times, the awful loads and trains and boatloads of poor, bloody, and pale and wounded young men again — for that is what we certainly will, and before very long. I see all the little signs, getting ready in the hospitals, etc.; it is dreadful when one thinks about it. I sometimes think over the sights I have myself seen: the arrival of the wounded after a battle, and the scenes on the field, too, and I can hardly believe my own recollections. What an awful thing war is! Mother, it seems not men but a lot of devils and butchers butchering each other.
    • Letter to his mother (1864-03-22)

  • We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents, and sort them, to unify them. They will be found ampler than has been supposed, and in widely different sources. Thus far, impress'd by New England writers and schoolmasters, we tacitly abandon ourselves to the notion that our United States has been fashion'd from the British Islands only, and essentially form a second England only — which is a very great mistake.

  • I said: "Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic!" He was hilarious: "That's beautiful: the hurrah game! well — it's our game: that's the chief fact in connection with it: America's game: has the snap, go fling, of the American atmosphere — belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life."
    • Conversation with Whitman (1889-04-07) as quoted in With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906) by Horace Traubel, Vol. IV

Disputed

  • I see great things in baseball, It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism, tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set, repair those losses and be a blessing to us.
    • This has been widely attributed to Whitman, and no one else, but without definite source. It has sometimes been cited as being from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (sometimes with a date of 23 July 1846), where Whitman had been an editor, but its presence on that date is not apparent in the online historical archives of that publication.

  • Yes, Mexico must be thoroughly chastised! Let our arms now be carried with a spirit which shall teach the world that, while we are not forward for a quarrel, American knows how to crush, as well as expand!
    • Editorial comment identified as from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (11 May 1846)

Quotes about Whitman

  • I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of "LEAVES OF GRASS." I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile and stingy nature, as if too much handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our western wits fat and mean.
    I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire.
    I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging…
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a letter to Whitman, thanking him for a copy of Leaves of Grass (21 July 1855)

  • Behold great Whitman, whose licentious line
    Delights the rake, and warms the souls of swine;
    Whose fever'd fancy shuns the measur'd pace,
    And copies Ovid's filth without his grace.
    In his rough brain a genius might have grown,
    Had he not sought to play the brute alone;
    But void of shame, he let his wit run wild,
    And liv'd and wrote as Adam's bestial child.
    Averse to culture, strange to humankind,
    He never knew the pleasures of the mind.
    Scorning the pure, the delicate, the clean,
    His joys were sordid, and his morals mean.
    Thro' his gross thoughts a native vigour ran,
    From which he deem'd himself the perfect man:
    But want of decency his rank decreas'd,
    And sunk him to the level of the beast.
    Would that his Muse had dy'd before her birth,
    Nor spread such foul corruption o'er the earth.
    • H. P. Lovecraft, in an "Essay on Modern Poets" this was published as a "Fragment on Whitman” in The Ancient Track (2001) edited by S. T. Joshi, p. 192
 
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