WALT WHITMAN, American poet died (b. 1819); Whitman is among the most, if not actually the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the “father of free verse” and as close to a Gay saint as we might ever hope to see. His work is and has always been controversial, particularly his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which has been described as obscene for its overt homoerotic sexuality.
Walt Whitman has been claimed as the “poet of democracy”, a title meant to reflect his ability to write in a singularly American character. A British friend of Walt Whitman, Mary Smith Whitall Costelloe, wrote: “You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass… He has expressed that civilization, ‘up to date,’ as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him.”
Modernist poet Ezra Pound called Whitman “America’s poet… He is America.” Andrew Carnegie called him “the great poet of America so far”. Whitman’s vagabond lifestyle was adopted by the Beat movement and its leaders such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in the 1950s and 1960s as well as anti-war poets like Adrienne Rich and Gary Snyder.
Whitman also influenced Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, and was the model for the character of Dracula! Stoker said in his notes that Dracula represented the quintessential male which, to Stoker, was Whitman, with whom he corresponded until Whitman’s death.