Walt Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island, New York, on May 31, 1819. His father Walter Whitman was an English labourer, carpenter and house builder. His mother Louisa, a Dutch Quaker, was an intensely religious person. In 1823, his family shifted to Brooklyn where he attended a public school from 1825 to 1830. He held various jobs such as that of an office boy (1830-31), a printer (1835-36), a school teacher (1836-41) as well as a contributor and editor to various periodicals and magazines.
In 1855, at the age of thirty-six, Whitman published the first edition of his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass which attracted much criticism from people. Most people were not ready to accept the book because of Whitman’s frankness in celebration of the human body. Also, it was not written in the conventional metric form but rather in his newly adopted free verse style. He did not follow any traditional rhyme and metre. This peculiar style earned him the status of “father of free verse”. However, Whitman remained confident with his own style of writing and continued to add to it and bring out new editions throughout his life.
During the Civil War (1861-65), his brother was seriously wounded, and this prompted him to serve the soldiers. He went to Washington in order to unofficially serve the wounded soldiers in the army hospital. After the end of Civil War, he was grief stricken by Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. He wrote two elegies to honour Lincoln – When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d and ‘O Captain! My Captain!’.
In 1873, after suffering from a paralyzing stroke, he moved from Washington D.C. to Camden, New Jersey where his brother George lived. His poemPrayer for Columbus appeared in 1874, followed by the prose work Memoranda during the War in 1875. He suffered from Pneumonia in December 1891 and died on March 26, 1892.