Walt Whitman, the father of free verse, was born on this day, May 31st, 209 years ago. Considered one of the finest poets in American history, his work would only achieve critical acclaim in the years following his death. Indeed, Whitman’s contemporaries viewed his writing as nothing more than obscene vulgarity, unworthy of affirmative acknowledgment. However, it was through the persistence of such literary pieces as Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that allowed for the dismantling of barriers that hindered poetic discourse surrounding previously taboo and sensual subjects.
Walt Whitman was no stranger to the concepts of transcendentalism and realism in literature, both of which were relatively new during his time. Many of these ideas, such as inherent virtue, self-reliance, and independence, are clearly reflected in his philosophy and career. Their influence would persist across time and even produce an impact on the likes of the Beat Generation and the counterculture movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
As the nation commemorates the birthday of “America’s poet,” we wish to offer our readers eight notable quotes from Walt Whitman that serve as a positive inspiration for us amidst our toil and tribulations in our daily lives.
Achieving Independence Through Self-Reliance
According to the fundamental principles of transcendentalism, people are considered at their best when they reach a state of self-reliance without the external corrupting influences of governing forces. Walt Whitman’s writing emitted an air of rebelliousness that urged the people to seek out their own independence and achieve enlightenment by their own hands.
Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
It is only the novice in political economy who thinks it is the duty of government to make its citizens happy – government has no such office.Walt Whitman
Holding Your Head High
Falling in line with the emphasis on the inner goodness of humanity according to transcendentalism, Whitman’s writing assured its audience that every individual possessed an innate quality of strength when faced with an overwhelming feeling of despair. When one feels crushed by their own weakness, they have a choice to stand strong.
Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.Walt Whitman
Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.Walt Whitman
Each of us inevitable; Each of us limitless – each of us with his or her right upon the earth.Walt Whitman
Expressing Love & Empathy
In a world of strife and division, many have preached the message of loving one another as a means of healing and attaining true happiness in life. Whitman’s work poses like-minded notions in the hopes that the world could become a truly better place if humanity came together and learned to empathize with one another without needless confrontation.
Love the earth and sun and animals. Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks. Stand up for the stupid and crazy. Devote your income and labor to others. And your flesh shall be a great poem.Walt Whitman
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.Walt Whitman
Pointing to another world will never stop vice among us; shedding light over this world can alone help us.Walt Whitman
To learn more about one of America’s most prominent figures in poetry, be sure to visit Bookstr for more information here.