Walt Whitman

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the highly influential American poet Walt Whitman. In 1855 Whitman was working as a printer, journalist and property developer when he published his first collection of poetry. It began: I celebrate myself, And what I assume you shall assume For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. The book was called Leaves of Grass. In it, Whitman set out to break away from European literary forms and traditions. Using long lines written in free verse, he developed a poetry meant to express a distinctively American outlook. Leaves of Grass is full of verse that celebrates both the sovereign individual, and the deep fellowship between individuals. Its optimism about the American experience was challenged by the Civil War and its aftermath, but Whitman emerged as a celebrity and a key figure in the development of American culture.

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  • Sarah Churchwell 2 episodes
    Professor of American Literature and the Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of London
  • Peter Riley No other episodes
    Lecturer in 19th Century American Literature at the University of Exeter
  • Mark Ford 4 episodes
    Professor of English and American Literature at University College London

Reading list

  • Leaves of Grass: The Sesquicentennial Essays
    Susan Belasco, Ed Folsom, Kenneth M. Price (eds) (University of Nebraska Press, 2007) Google Books →
  • The New Walt Whitman Studies
    Matt Cohen (ed.) (Cambridge University Press, 2020) Google Books →
  • Whitman the Political Poet
    Betsy Erkkilla (Oxford University Press, 1989) Google Books →
  • The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War
    Roy Morris, Jr (Oxford University Press, 2000) Google Books →
  • Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography
    David S. Reynolds (Vintage, 1996) Google Books →
  • Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples
    Michael Robertson (Princeton University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Walt Whitman: A Gay Life
    Gary Schmidgall (E P Dutton, 1997) Google Books →
  • Whitman Noir: Black America and the Good Gray Poet
    Ivy G Wilson (University of Iowa Press, 2014) Google Books →
  • Walt Whitman: The Making of the Poet
    Paul Zweig (Viking, 1985) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: m001l99w

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001l99w

Auto-category: 811.3 (American poetry)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In July 1855, a Brooklyn printer, journalist and property developer called Walt Whitman published his first collection of poetry.