(The picture above was painted by William Kelly.)
“The assemblages of citizens in their groups, conversations, trades… these, I say, completely satisfy my senses of power, fullness, motion, and give me… a continued exaltation and absolute fulfillment.”
His poems “Mannahatta” and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” are examples of his curiosity about other people and his delight in living near so many of them. As a prominent writer, he enjoyed the city’s growing intellectual culture. As a committed abolitionist, he was proud of New York’s free society. As he bridged the gap between Transcendentalist literature and American Realism, Whitman’s innovative poetry created a new style that was to influence generations of poets. (Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem “Howl” was in many ways inspired by Whitman’s style.)
His poem “Song of Myself” was published in America during a time of crisis, between two wars and in an unstable economy – not to mention the issue of slavery, which had been dividing the nation for years. The “Myself” in the poem, describes not just Whitman but also his fellow citizens. His poetry aimed to forge an identity for the country, the city, and himself by celebrating and immersing himself in the diversity of experiences he encountered in New York City.