Cover image for Walt Whitman : the song of himself
Walt Whitman : the song of himself
Loving, Jerome, 1941-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley, Calif. : University of California Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiv, 568 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3231 .L68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
PS3231 .L68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself is the first full-length critical biography of Walt Whitman in more than forty years. Jerome Loving makes use of recently unearthed archival evidence and newspaper writings to present the most accurate, complete, and complex portrait of the poet to date. This authoritative biography affords fresh, often revelatory insights into many aspects of the poet's life, including his attitudes toward the emerging urban life of America, his relationships with his family members, his developing notions of male-male love, his attitudes toward the vexed issue of race, and his insistence on the union of American states. Virtually every chapter presents material that was previously unknown or unavailable, and Whitman emerges as never before, in all his complexity as a corporal, cerebral, and spiritual being. Loving gives us a new Poet of Democracy, one for the twenty-first century.

Loving brings to life the elusive early Whitman, detailing his unhappy teaching career, typesetting jobs, quarrels with editors, and relationships with family and friends. He takes us through the Civil War--with Whitman's moving descriptions of the wounded and dying he nursed, the battlegrounds and camps he visited--demonstrating why the war became one of the defining events of Whitman's life and poetry. Loving's account of Whitman's relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most complete and fascinating available. He also draws insights from new material about Whitman's life as a civil servant, his Lincoln lectures, and his abiding campaign to gain acceptance for what was regarded by many as a "dirty book." He examines each edition of Leaves of Grass in connection with the life and times that produced it, demonstrating how Whitman's poetry serves as a priceless historical document--marking such events as Grant's death, the completion of the Washington monument, Custer's defeat, and the Johnstown flood--at the same time that it reshapes the canon of American literature.

The most important gap in the Whitman record is his journalism, which has never been completely collected and edited. Previous biographers have depended on a very incomplete and inaccurate collection. Loving has found long-forgotten runs of the newspapers Whitman worked on and has gathered the largest collection of his journalism to date. He uses these pieces to significantly enhance our understanding of where Whitman stood in the political and ideological spectra of his era.

Loving tracks down the sources of anecdotes about Whitman, how they got passed from one biographer to another, were embellished and re-contextualized. The result is a biography in which nothing is claimed without a basis in the factual record. Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself will be an invaluable tool for generations to come, an essential resource in understanding Leaves of Grass and its poet--who defied literary decorum, withstood condemnation, and stubbornly pursued his own way.

Author Notes

Jerome Loving is the author of Lost in the Customhouse: Authorship in the American Renaissance (1993), Emily Dickinson: The Poet on the Second Story (1986), Emerson, Whitman, and the American Muse (1982), and Walt Whitman's Champion: William Douglas O'Connor (1978). He is the editor of Frank Norris's McTeague (1995), Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1990), and Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (1975).

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

There is perhaps no greater known American poet than Walt Whitman. Yet very few comprehensive biographies have been written about him. Loving offers the first authoritative biography of the famed poet in more than 40 years, and it has been well worth waiting for. Loving, a Whitman scholar, expertly presents readers with vivid details from Whitman's fascinating life. More interestingly, however, he presents his poetry as companions to the events that prompted the verses. Although, at some level, most people know Whitman's poetry, compiled in the edition titled Leaves of Grass, many do not know of the poet's journalism and feature writing or his career as a teacher, a newspaper printer, and an editor. Loving shows us the Whitman who loved his hospital volunteer work during the Civil War, Whitman the opera enthusiast, Whitman the unrelenting democrat. We see the Whitman who loved Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island, but who traveled in order to make himself a better poet. Loving investigates both contemporary and current perceptions of Whitman--claims of racism, misogyny, homosexuality are all touched upon honestly and carefully. This fantastic biography of one of America's most colorful and extraordinary characters shows a Whitman whose life and wanderings echo the ethos of that period in our country. A delightful read. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0520214277Michael Spinella

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this critical biography, Loving describes Walt Whitman as "half New York journalist, half New England transcendentalist," and goes on to outline skillfully the complexities and contradictions of the poet's life and times. Loving begins with the Civil War, when Whitman, his racy reputation already established by the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855), nursed the wounded and wrote, as both poet and journalist, of the atrocities of the war of brother against brother. Loving then backtracks to Whitman's life in New York‘Long Island, Brooklyn and "Mannahatta" (as the poet called Manhattan)‘taking us through his early years as a journalist and editor, didactic novelist and versifier in the European tradition. Whitman himself emerges as a kind of liberal puritan‘relatively progressive politically, rather more conservative culturally. The book is light on criticism until a detailed account of "the central literary event of the nineteenth century," a close and revealing reading of the seminal Leaves of Grass. While Loving discusses intimate male friendship and homoeroticism, particularly in respect to the Calamus poems, he makes little of recent gender theory on Whitman (the work of, for example, Robert K. Martin and Michael Moon) and fails to provide the narrative charge of David S. Reynolds's acclaimed 1995 cultural biography of Whitman. While students of the great American bard will value this highly detailed and thoroughly documented biography (strengthened by recently unearthed Whitman journalism), the general reader may wish to start elsewhere. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this meticulous and resourceful account of Walt Whitman's life, Loving (Emily Dickinson: The Poet on the Second Story, 1987) has successfully captured many sides of the poet's well-researched yet still obscure character. Loving covers all aspects of Whitman's private and public life, thus unveiling the poet in all his glory. Themes discussed include Whitman's youth and relationships with family members, quarrels with editors, the Civil War years, and the intricate circumstances that surrounded each edition of Leaves of Grass. Loving challenges us to be more than just passive readers, especially when he quotes Whitman's poetry to support his arguments. He evidently rejects the traditional, chronological way of documenting events but doesn't overlook the importance of simple and accessible writing. Although this book is likely to be more useful and respected in academic libraries, it is strongly recommended for public libraries as well.ÄMirela Roncevic, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Impelled by the desire to update the biographical record and view it from a fresh perspective, Loving (Texas A&M Univ.) describes Whitman's experiences as a teacher, printer, politician, journalist, revolutionary poet, Civil War nurse, public relations pioneer, and literary guru. He explores Whitman's life on Long Island and in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Camden; clarifies Whitman's relationships with his parents, siblings, and "camerados" such as Peter Doyle and Harry Stafford; and discusses in detail the six editions of the poet's masterpiece, Leaves of Grass. Along the way, Loving offers many new insights--e.g., into contributions to the New Orleans Crescent and Brooklyn Daily Times mistakenly attributed to Whitman, into the biographical significance of Whitman's fiction and pre-Leaves verse, into the identity of the mysterious "Ellen Eyre," into Whitman's racial attitudes, and, of course, into his sexuality. Unlike Gary Schmidgall (Walt Whitman: A Gay Life, 1997), Loving does not argue for, or assume, Whitman's homosexuality. Indeed, he makes few conjectures of any kind if he believes "basic facts" are lacking. In the politically charged field of Whitman scholarship, his is a courageous stance, for it is sure to draw fire. A landmark contribution to US literature and a necessary acquisition for all academic and public libraries. D. D. Kummings; University of Wisconsin--Parkside