Beautiful Writing: Part 3, Walt Whitman




Walt Whitman is one of the most important American, if not world, poets. His work changed poetry, and he has been called the Poet of Democracy. His collection Leaves of Grass, is one of the books of poetry that I recommend everyone read sometime in his or her life.

I want to offer two examples of his work: this first is a brief excerpt from his preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass as a representation of beautiful writing. This is from the preface that Whitman wrote to his work, and it is in prose, but it reads like poetry.

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and

the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that

asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your

income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not

concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward

the people, take off your hat to nothing known or

unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely

with powerful uneducated persons and with the young

and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in

the open air every season of every year of your life, re-

examine all you have been told at school or church or

in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul,

and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the

richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent

lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your

eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”


My second Whitman offering is perhaps his most famous poem and is about the death of Abraham Lincoln: “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.


21 thoughts on “Beautiful Writing: Part 3, Walt Whitman

  1. beccaswordbeat

    Thank you for sharing!! I have Leaves of Grass in my nightstand and I pick it up from time to time for a lesson on beautiful writing. Definitely lots to learn from him!


  2. Thank you, Charles! Another Beautiful Writing post that I read many times. Leaves of grass… I read that long ago and will read it again. Oh Captain! My Captain! is a favorite poem. Walt Whitman was a great writer.


  3. Walt is, in my humble opinion, one of the most important world poets – if I may use that expression

    The only tragedy, is that he is not read widely enough, and understood even less, and followed still less


  4. Not sure if my comment went through so, here I go again!

    In my view, Walt is a poet of global significance

    The tragedy is that:
    1. He is not widely read
    2. He is less understood
    3. He is even less, followed


  5. Walt, wish he was around ,

    Know PoetryWolf

    Out write , out pen

    Out right trample over That acid poet

    Know that

    And if he was around

    The Whitman poetry prize

    Would not be handed out

    To chump pen as Has been

    Frost him to , Over played over rated Bandwagons Ride them Poetry Wolf

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful. The first, is poetic philosophy at its best and most profound. I should follow it more often, because I do believe in living that way. Thank you for sharing. The second one, is wonderful also. K D


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