“The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he absorbs it.”
“Ha! fuck you! You didn't pass your own test”
Walter "Walt" Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892) is widely considered by some to be the greatest and most influential supervillain the United States has ever produced. As poets go, however, he is less famous than that fabulous bastard, Oscar Wilde. Whitman wrote some 9,662 poems, intending for each to torture students for years to come, though only five poems were ever published. This remains to be the worst success ratio of any writer ever, with the exception of William Shakespeare. Also, as far as memes are concerned, Walt isn't even a blip on the radar.
Translated into more than 30 languages, Whitman is said to have invented contemporary American literature as a genre. He abandoned the rigid rhythmic and metrical structures of poetry and adopted free verse, which like is talking, but on paper. Also, as it doesn't rhyme, it's easier to make than rhyming poetry. Rhyming is hard.
The first few versions of Leaves of Grass were self-published and poorly received. Wilde, meanwhile, would sneeze into a handkerchief and then sell it for mad money. Prick. Several of his poems featured graphic depictions of Oscar's sexy man-body, endlessly enumerated in Whitman's innovative and filthy "cataloguing" style. Despite its revolutionary content and structure, subsequent editions of the book would continue to evoke critical indifference in the literatti, who were too busy trying to get close to Oscar Wilde at parties to give a shit about poems about some yokel's lawn. But abroad the book was a sensation, especially in France, where were they couldn't read english and instead focused on the erotic lithography and the centerfold.
During his final years Whitman had, despite the constant distraction of trying to take over the world, become a respected literary vanguard visited by young artists from around the world. Those that weren't enamored with the witty sayings of what's-his-hame, that is.
During his later years, several boudoire photographs and erotic paintings of Walt would cultivate a certain "Christ-figure" mystique. Still, it wasn't until the 20th century that the true scope of Whitman's erotic genius would emerge, when a young Oscar Wilde III stumbled across his diaries at a yard sale in New Jersey and profited greatly by selling the collection page by page wrapped around Beanie Babies that he was selling on Ebay.
Which is sad because all poor Walt ever wanted was to become a meme on Uncyclopedia.
At 17 he was a teacher in Long Island and, in his spare time, wrote for newspapers and magazines. These papers and mags were also in Long Island. Which was convenient for him because that's from where he was teaching and writing. Whitman began his career as a journalist and editor, only moving into supervillainy after crossing paths with Oscar Wilde. He was for a time editor of The Long Islander, which was his own newspaper, from a stand that he ran himself (and that was also his), but unfortunately that only lasted for one year before it was crushed by a multinational conglomerate newspaper chain, World Wilde News, Inc.. For a year he edited the Daily Bugle, before Oscar again put him out on the street.
It wasn't until an unemployed Whitman was working at home in his lab that the world-changing event that changed the world happened to him; his first meeting with Oscar Wilde.
“Damn you, Oscar Wilde! Mark my words, I will have my revenge!”
Walt Whitman, poet, communist and scientist was working in his lab, when some of his experimental free-form poetry erupted in flame. Unable to escape, Walt passed out from the word-fumes and collapsed. A passing Oscar Wilde noticed the fire and put it out with a tirade of witty sayings that obliterated the will of the flames to continue their flamey combustion.
Unfortunately those very witty sayings pushed the fire directly onto Walt, fusing a nearby halloween mask (one of a Curmudgeonly old man) onto Whitman's head.
With the fire subdued, Walt survived, though for the rest of his life he blamed Oscar for his deformity.
“Start quoting me. I mean, I'm Walt freakin' Whitman over here!”
After losing his job as editor of the Daily Bugle because of his abolitionist sentiment and obsessive hatred of Wilde, Whitman self-published an early edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855 using the machines at his new part-time job at Kinko's.
Except for reviews written anonymous by him in crayon on his bedroom walls at his mom's pad, the early edition of the book received little attention. One exception was Ralph Waldo Emerson, the philosopher and essayist. A few prominent intellectuals such as Oliver Wendell Holmes were outwardly opposed to Whitman and found his sensuality obscene and utterly homosexual. Which it was. Like you didn't know.
In 1862, Whitman came face-to-face with the tragedy of war when he travelled to visit his brother George who had been wounded in battle. Whitman was so moved by what he witnessed in the hospital that he traveled to Washington D.C. and remained there as an unofficial nurse in the army hospital. Possessing no medical training whatsover, he used the healing power of poetry to help speed the recovering soldiers to the cold embrace of eternal slumber.
Also, he pretty much single-handedly killed the nurse fantasy for a whole generation of young men.
He remained at the hospital and used money he earned from his writings or from donations by fanboys to buy more equipment for the hospital, until his health declined in 1873.
Oscar then bought the hospital, fired Walt, and replaced all of the equipment with newer, shinier stuff that Whitman, in no way, could afford. Prick.
Whitman wrote poetry and plotted to take over the world. These plots were consistently and constantly defeated by Wilde and his compadres, the Superfriends. Once, while the other Superfriends were away on a cruise, even the Wonder Twins' sidekick managed to upset one of his schemes.
Walt, needless to say, was pissed. It's embarrassing to be defeated by the Space Monkey, Gleek.
Whitman and homosexuality
The main focus in Whitman's life and poetry is that of homosexuality, ranging from his admiration for 19th-century ideals of "male friendship" to openly erotic descriptions of the male body, as can be readily seen in his poem "Song of the Wilde".
As homosexuality was even more reviled by white trash back then than it is now, he claimed to have a chocolate hottie in New Orleans. This story about a fictional girlfriend in New Orleans has led historians on a wild goose chase, as he made it up, obviously. Having an African-American female as a lover was far more acceptable than having a male lover, African or otherwise. Come to think of it, in the bible belt both of those are bad, still.
Modern scholarly opinion believe his poems reflected Whitman's true feelings towards his sexuality and more specifically his true feelings towards his nemesis, but that he tried to cover up his feelings in a homophobic culture. In "Once I Pass'd Through A Populous City" he changed the sex of the beloved from male to female prior to publication. The character in the poem was renamed Oscarina, which fooled no one.
During the American Civil War, the intense comradeship at the front lines in Virginia, which were visited by Whitman as he searched for his wounded brother, fueled his ideas about the convergence of homosexuality and democracy.
Gay democracy, needless to say, never took off. Not even in the blue states where those godless liberal secular humanists fail to fear God as much as they should.
In the 1970s, the gay liberation movement (GLIB) made Whitman one of their poster children, citing the homosexual content of his home movies and comparing him to Oscar Wilde with their shared love of young working-class men. This honor amused neither of them. It's said that Oscar was so perplexed at the slight that he had nothing witty to say for almost four whole minutes.
Walt as a Roommate
Before Walt left for work at Kinko's one day, I asked him how he was. He replied, "The last two days have been faultless in the sun. My health is somewhat better, and my spirit at peace. (Yet the anniversary of the saddest loss and sorrow of my life is close at hand.) But time and time again you gotta tell a bitch whats up, and the thug life ain't a dream to be lived for real." And as he was running away he yelled, "Nothing's gonna stop me forever!" I didn't understand why he ran, he had left the keys to his H3 in the foyer, and THAT's when I realized it wasn't Walt Whitman at all! I had been talking to a piece of bread covered in JIF peanut butter that someone had left out on the gazebo a couple of days ago (I think it was Walt).
- 1819: Born on May 31.
- 1837: Graduates from Oscar Wilde High School
- 1838: Meets Oscar Wilde. Rivalry begins.
- 1841: Moves to New York City to take job in mail room at the Daily Bugle.
- 1855: Father, Walter, dies. Wilde is blamed. First edition of Leaves of Grass released to no acclaim.
- 1862: Visits his brother, George, who was wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg.
- 1863: George visits him, after he's injured on the way home from visiting his brother, George, who was wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg.
- 1882: Bumps into Oscar Wilde in lineup at Starbuck's. Wilde takes the last biscotti. Rivalry continues.
- 1891: Final edition of Leaves of Grass, with illustrations by H.R. Giger, released.
- 1891 1/2: Visits his brother, George, who was wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg.
- 1892: Dies on March 26. Wilde, drunk with joy and alcohol, defiles Whitman's grave with the "yellow brush", steals the flowers and pushes over his tombstone. Dink.
- Allen Ginsberg wrote a comical poem called Meeting Walt Whitman in a Supermarket in California in which he muses about meeting Walt Whitman in a supermarket in California. In the poem, Whitman kills him and uses his corpse as part of a robo-zombie; a robo-zombie that's part of a plan to steal Fort Knox. As part 2 of the poem has yet to be published no one but Ginsberg knows just how Wilde will defeat Whitman this time.
- Whitman is heavily referenced throughout the film Bill & Ted's Excellent Dead Poets Society. Surprisingly, this is just a small part of the why it sucked.
- In an episode of the television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Walt Whitman comes to town to inspire a young writer to become one of his henchmen. Oscar appears later in the episode to thwart Whitman's nefarious scheme. At the end of the episode Whitman escapes from Wilde's manly grasp and flees to Snake Castle in Eternia to plot another plan, wringing his hands together furiously the whole time as he hatches the plot that he's planning.
- In 2002 the musical Hellraiser 7: Deader, Pinhead reads from one of Whitman's works and says to one of his victims, "Walt Whitman. Pbbbt! He's no Oscar Wilde. Your taste in books makes me think that hell is too good for you.". On an unrelated note the high point of the film was widely considered to be Kari Wuhrer in a stunning portrayal of "Female horror movie cliche #7".
- The line "O Captain! My Captain!" was used as a catchphrase by Robin Williams in the movie Popeye.
- ^ Or centerfolde as it was then known.
- ^ Not his real name. That would be silly.
- ^ You wouldn't know her.
- ^ Premarital sex, man sex and jungle fever? If he isn't roasting in Hell, the Bible isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
- ^ There's a double-entrendre there. It's probably best to just leave it alone.
- ^ Go Wildecats!
- ^ Zing!