Having had some success – a novel and newspaper pieces – he became chief editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, but lost this position when his opposition to the spread of slavery clashed with the views of the newspaper’s owner.
Luckily, an opportunity arose to work on a newspaper in New Orleans.
Whitman enjoyed this different culture, but never lost his horror of slave auctions.
On learning his brother George might have been injured during the Civil War, Whitman travelled to Washington DC and Fredericksburg, Virginia, to look for him.
A “hieroglyphic” symbol might need an expert – such as Whitman – to translate it, but it grows “uniform[ly]”, giving everyone the same rights and the same chances to mean something in the great poem that is America, as Whitman saw it.
As a result of Whitman’s habit of revision, we can witness the growth of many poems.
Celebrations will be especially joyful around his birthday on May 31 and in New York City, whose citizens were often depicted in his poems.
But the poetry many people now love won him notoriety before it won him fame. He was born in 1819 and grew up in and around Brooklyn, moving often as his family tried to make money from farming and real estate. He worked by turns in Manhattan and Brooklyn as a printer’s apprentice, a schoolteacher and a newspaper publisher, before resolving to become a writer.
But Whitman’s daring originality seems more than a mere response to Emerson’s demands.
It is clear he thought of his book of poems, Leaves of Grass, as an experimental project.