Description and explanation of the major themes of Whitman’s Poetry

Aspiz, Harold. Walt Whitman and the Body Beautiful. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1980.

Walt Whitman: Poems Themes | GradeSaver

Walt Whitman uses the theme of death in his poetry. Whitman's use of death is unlike any other poets. He draws upon his own experiences with death and this makes his poetry real.

Fone, Byrne R.S. Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1992.

Themes in Leaves of Grass - CliffsNotes Study Guides

Most scholars and critics include Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman among the very best poets in American history. Each of them contributed so much to the evolution of modern poetry that their influence continues to this day.

Aside from their status as great poets, these two individuals bore little resemblance to one another, as people or as poets. Whitman traveled throughout America and developed free verse, in part, to help in his quest to become the "American Poet" called for by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Dickinson, on the other hand, rarely left her father's house in Amherst, MA, and published only a few of her intense, minimalistic poems in her lifetime.

For this project students should read a selection of poems from each author (links provided below) and write an essay discussing the obvious but somewhat surprising differences in their perspectives on a relevant literary theme.

Fone, Byrne R.S. Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1992.

So much can be discovered about an era by looking at the literature of its time period. Walt Whitman defined the literature of his era. His poems became America’s poems- his voice America’s voice. He himself even claimed to be that voice. In a time when America was defined by division, he preached a voice of unity, of basic democratic values. He reminded America of its roots, brought back memories of the ideals the country was meant to seek. He raised up the individual, glorified him, made him whole, new, and perfect. America loved the new face he created for them. Walt Whitman opened up so many doors for Americans of all types with his words, and planted the seeds for a new generation. What made his words so powerful? What topics did he explore that inspired the American people so greatly? How was he able to communicate so intimately with the individuals that made up the society around him? A look into some of his prevalent themes, stylistic tendencies of his works, and literary techniques may produce some answers to these questions.

from Walt Whitman and the Citizen’s Eye (Louisiana State UP, 1993), 140