Walt Whitman: Builder for America Critical Context - Essay

Babette Deutsch

Critical Context

Deutsch received the Julia Ellsworth Ford Foundation Prize for Walt Whitman in 1941. As a poet herself, she could appreciate the personal life that fuels a poet’s inspiration. Deutsch was born in New York City in 1895, only a few years after Whitman died in nearby Camden. Her first book, Banners, was published in 1919; her poetry often dealt with social issues. Other than her own poetry, Deutsch published translations of German and Russian poetry and compiled anthologies; she also wrote fiction.

One of the advantages of this biography is that Deutsch uses the poet’s own language whenever appropriate. Some of Whitman’s best-known lines and phrases enliven these pages. Another strong point is the duplication of the feeling of movement, of witnessing many people and scenes, that Whitman expresses in his poems, especially in his autobiographical poem “Song of Myself.”

Walt Whitman re-creates some lively nineteenth century settings. In the torchlit political rallies of New York City and in the fever-plagued army hospitals of the Civil War, the reader will find the backdrops of major historical events.