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Celebrating Walt Whitman on the 200th Anniversary of his Birth

Walt Whitman, perhaps best known as the poet of the Leaves of Grass, was born in Huntington on May 31, 1819. He was the second of nine children born to Walter and Louisa Whitman. The family soon moved to Brooklyn where Whitman attended the local schools. He was a voracious reader and was largely self-educated.

Of course, most of us know him as a poet. America’s poet. The poet of democracy. But did you know that he was also a printer, carpenter, civil servant, the founder and editor of the Huntington-based Long Islander newspaper and a teacher in several one-room schools? During the Civil War he traveled to Washington, DC to care for his wounded brother and then stayed to nurse and comfort other wounded soldiers, even writing letters home for them. Out of these varied experiences came many poems and prose works.

There is a rich online archive of his original works as well as commentary, criticism of his writings and biographical information at the Walt Whitman Archive. The Library of Congress  has a treasure trove of Whitman material. Would you like to be part of the effort by the Library of Congress to make accessible more of Whitman’s work? You can! There is a crowdsourcing campaign where you can transcribe drafts of his poetry, prose and correspondence.

After suffering a stroke in 1873, Whitman moved to Camden, NJ where his brother lived.

Maybe his poem, “Song of the Open Road,” will inspire you to take a drive to NJ to visit the home he bought in Camden (1884) and where he eventually died (1892).

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me, leading me wherever I choose…

Allons! whoever you are! come forth!

You must not stay sleeping and dallying there in the house, though you built it, or though it has been built for you….

Allons! be not detain’d!…

Allons! the road is before us!”

Closer to home is the Walt Whitman Birthplace, the house his father built and where he was born. Call the library to reserve the museum pass. And come to the third floor to see the display of books celebrating Whitman’s life and influence.

On May 31 the library is showing a documentary about his life, followed by a discussion led by librarian Sonia Grgas.

-posted by Brenda, Reference Services

 

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