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Walt Whitman

G. Frank E. Pearsall, active c. 1871 - 1896
Walt Whitman, 31 May 1819 - 26 Mar 1892
Albumen silver print
Image: 13.8 x 10.2cm (5 7/16 x 4")
Mount: 19.1 x 11.4cm (7 1/2 x 4 1/2")
Mat: 45.7 x 35.6cm (18 x 14")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Feinberg
Object number
Exhibition Label
Creating a distinctly American verse, Walt Whitman kicked down the doors and jambs of genteel Anglo-American literature and took poetry out into the streets and roads of a turbulent and expansive democracy. Whitman sounded his "barbaric yawp" across rooftops and into Leaves of Grass (first published in 1855). His poetic tendency to list, categorize, or catalogue was a legacy of the Enlightenment, yet his joyful earthiness was a far cry from the Enlightenment’s cool rationalism. And whereas his contemporaries, especially Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, recoiled from the unfixed and unmoored nature of American society, Whitman alone vaulted into the future, not simply walking on the open road but building it as he went along, surveying the ever-changing face of America and Americans. Whitman was also one of the first Americans to comprehend the power of photography to shape a reputation. Photography’s ability to project multiple, diverse personas to the public was naturally appealing to a poet celebrating his—and our—multiple selves. Everywhere and nowhere—that is the paradox of Walt Whitman. In all of his chanting, he still has time to sum himself up in a way that endures: "I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured and never will be measured. / I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)."
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
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National Portrait Gallery Collection