The Poetry of Walt Whitman

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11463

Does poetry rhyme? Not every time! Learn some free verse, written by a male nurse! Discover Walt Whitman and how his poetry reflected his society. You'll write your own free verse about today's world!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


If you were a poet, would you prefer to be famous during your lifetime or after your death? Why? What events in your life do you think would influence your poetry?

Walt Whitman at age 36

Image published by Dood, Meead and Co, NY, 1898, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1924.

Walt Whitman is recognized as one of America's most famous nineteenth-century poets, even though he was not famous during his lifetime.

Writing during the middle of the nineteenth century, Whitman lived through the Civil War and even worked as a male nurse during wartime. Although Whitman published and sold several editions of his poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, he often struggled to make ends meet and worked in a variety of professions, including newspaper printing, teaching, and nursing.

Whitman would publish other poetry collections, including Drum-Taps, Democratic Vistas, and Passage to India, but none of these other books achieved the fame that Leaves did. Leaves of Grass is a collection of Whitman's work that he continued to revise and add poems to in each subsequent published edition until his death.

To learn more about Walt Whitman's life and his writing, read the following biography, Walt Whitman, by Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price from The Walt Whitman Archive. As you read, take notes on the important events of Whitman's life and the dates when editions of his book, Leaves of Grass, were printed. You will be using this information to create a timeline of Whitman's biography and publishing history.

After you have read the biography and taken notes, you will create your timeline. You can do this in print on a sheet of paper (use a sheet of butcher paper, freezer wrap, or even the back of wrapping paper, so you can make the sheet as long as you want) or you can use an online program, such as Timetoast

On your timeline, include the following information:

  • Dates of Whitman's birth and death
  • Dates of the births of Whitman's siblings
  • Dates and titles of Whitman's different jobs
  • Dates and locations of places Whitman lived
  • Dates of the publication of the various editions of Leaves of Grass

After you have finished your timeline, share it with your teacher or parent and explain the chronology of Whitman's life and literary career to him or her.

Now that you have completed the timeline of Whitman's life, what events do you think were the most interesting in his life? Which events do you think influenced Whitman's poetry? Discuss your answers with your parent or teacher before moving to the Got It? section to read several of Whitman's poems.

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