Walt Whitman: Builder for America narrates Whitman’s life chronologically, beginning with him as a small child and ending with his death at the age of seventy-four. The expression of events in chapter 1 typifies Babette Deutsch’s method of writing. An anecdote taken directly from Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself,” about a sea captain who refuses to surrender to an attacking British ship and eventually captures it, is put into the mouth of young Whitman’s great-grandfather, a retired sailor. This approach, used throughout the biography, enables the reader to read lines or phrases of the poems within the context of the poet’s life.
In addition, the reader can find the poems and appropriate excerpts reprinted in the second half of the text. There is also a list relating the titles of these poems to the relevant chapters of the biography. Deutsch’s biographical approach produces a wonderful composite containing both the author’s view of life, which produced the poetry, and the poetry that celebrates his life.
A single illustration, a sketch of Whitman by Raphael Busoni, presents the poet looking out to sea, with winds swirling around him. The pose suggests a love of nature and adventure that the biography goes on to describe.
From the beginning of the biography, Deutsch connects Whitman with the United States’ history and political development. In tracing the two-hundred-year-old family roots of Whitman in...
(The entire section is 434 words.)