Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

By David S. Reynolds

Oxford University Press, USA, Hardcover, 9780195170092, 159pp.

Publication Date: February 1, 2005

Description
From the great events of the day to the patient workings of a spider, few poets responded to the life around them as powerfully as Walt Whitman. Now, in this brief but bountiful volume, David S. Reynolds offers a wealth of insight into the life and work of Whitman, examining the author through the lens of nineteenth-century America.
Reynolds shows how Whitman responded to contemporary theater, music, painting, photography, science, religion, and sex. But perhaps nothing influenced Whitman more than the political events of his lifetime, as the struggle over slavery threatened to rip apart the national fabric. America, he believed, desperately needed a poet to hold together a society that was on the verge of unraveling. He created his powerful, all-absorbing poetic "I" to heal a fragmented nation that, he hoped, would find in his poetry new possibilities for inspiration and togetherness. Reynolds also examines the influence of theater, describing how Whitman's favorite actor, the tragedian Junius Brutus Booth--"one of the grandest revelations of my life"--developed a powerfully emotive stage style that influenced Leaves of Grass, which took passionate poetic expression to new heights. Readers will also discover how from the new medium of photography Whitman learned democratic realism and offered in his poetry "photographs" of common people engaged in everyday activities. Reynolds concludes with an appraisal of Whitman's impact on American letters, an influence that remains strong today.
Solidly grounded in historical and biographical facts, and exceptionally wide-ranging in the themes it treats, Walt Whitman packs a dazzling amount of insight into a compact volume.


About the Author
David S. Reynolds is Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His books include John Brown, Abolitionist, winner of the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award; Walt Whitman's America, winner of the Bancroft Prize and the Ambassador Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Beneath the American Renaissance, winner of the Christian Gauss Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He lives in Old Westbury, New York.