- See also:Leaves of Grass
- It is a beautiful truth that all men contain something of the artist in them. And perhaps it is the case that the greatest artists live and die, the world and themselves alike ignorant what they possess. Who would not mourn that an ample palace, of surpassingly graceful architecture, fill’d with luxuries, and embellish’d with fine pictures and sculpture, should stand cold and still and vacant, and never be known or enjoy’d by its owner? Would such a fact as this cause your sadness? Then be sad. For there is a palace, to which the courts of the most sumptuous kings are but a frivolous patch, and, though it is always waiting for them, not one of its owners ever enters there with any genuine sense of its grandeur and glory.
I think of few heroic actions, which cannot be traced to the artistical impulse. He who does great deeds, does them from his innate sensitiveness to moral beauty.
- Talk not so much, then, young artist, of the great old masters, who but painted and chisell’d. Study not only their productions. There is a still higher school for him who would kindle his fire with coal from the altar of the loftiest and purest art. It is the school of all grand actions and grand virtues, of heroism, of the death of patriots and martyrs — of all the mighty deeds written in the pages of history — deeds of daring, and enthusiasm, devotion, and fortitude.
- "Talk to an Art-Union (A Brooklyn fragment)".
- This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body. . . . The poet shall not spend his time in unneeded work. He shall know that the ground is always ready ploughed and manured . . . . others may not know it but he shall. He shall go directly to the creation. His trust shall master the trust of everything he touches . . . . and shall master all attachment.
- From the Preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass
- In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing "base", a certain game of ball...Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms...the game of ball is glorious.
- I have just this moment heard from the front — there is nothing yet of a movement, but each side is continually on the alert, expecting something to happen.
O Mother, to think that we are to have here soon what I have seen so many times, the awful loads and trains and boatloads of poor, bloody, and pale and wounded young men again — for that is what we certainly will, and before very long. I see all the little signs, getting ready in the hospitals, etc.; it is dreadful when one thinks about it. I sometimes think over the sights I have myself seen: the arrival of the wounded after a battle, and the scenes on the field, too, and I can hardly believe my own recollections. What an awful thing war is! Mother, it seems not men but a lot of devils and butchers butchering each other.
- Letter to his mother (1864-03-22).
- We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents, and sort them, to unify them. They will be found ampler than has been supposed, and in widely different sources. Thus far, impress'd by New England writers and schoolmasters, we tacitly abandon ourselves to the notion that our United States has been fashion'd from the British Islands only, and essentially form a second England only — which is a very great mistake.
- I said: "Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic!" He was hilarious: "That's beautiful: the hurrah game! well — it's our game: that's the chief fact in connection with it: America's game: has the snap, go fling, of the American atmosphere — belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life."
- Conversation with Whitman (1889-04-07) as quoted in With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906) by Horace Traubel, Vol. IV
- If the United States haven't grown poets, on any scale of grandeur, it is certain that they import, print, and read more poetry than any equal number of people elsewhere -- probably more than the rest of the world combined.
Poetry (like a grand personality) is a growth of many generations -- many rare combinations.
To have great poets, there must be great audiences too.
- Walt Whitman (1892). "III. Notes Left Over 3. Ventures, on an Old Theme". Complete Prose Works. Philadelphia: David McKay. p. 324.
Quotes about Whitman 
- Incompossible, adj. Unable to exist if something else exists. Two things are incompossible when the world of being has scope enough for one of them, but not enough for both—as Walt Whitman's poetry and God's mercy to man.
- I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of "LEAVES OF GRASS." I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile and stingy nature, as if too much handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our western wits fat and mean.
I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire.
I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging…
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a letter to Whitman, thanking him for a copy of Leaves of Grass (21 July 1855).
- I always knew in my heart Walt Whitman’s mind to be more like my own than any other man’s living. As he is a very great scoundrel this is not a pleasant confession.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, in a letter to Robert Bridges (18 October 1882).
- One Whitman is miracle enough, and when he comes again it will be the end of the world.
- Randall Jarrell in "Some Lines from Whitman" in Poetry and the Age (1953), p. 119.
- Behold great Whitman, whose licentious line
Delights the rake, and warms the souls of swine;
Whose fever'd fancy shuns the measur'd pace,
And copies Ovid's filth without his grace.
In his rough brain a genius might have grown,
Had he not sought to play the brute alone;
But void of shame, he let his wit run wild,
And liv'd and wrote as Adam's bestial child.
Averse to culture, strange to humankind,
He never knew the pleasures of the mind.
Scorning the pure, the delicate, the clean,
His joys were sordid, and his morals mean.
Thro' his gross thoughts a native vigour ran,
From which he deem'd himself the perfect man:
But want of decency his rank decreas'd,
And sunk him to the level of the beast.
Would that his Muse had dy'd before her birth,
Nor spread such foul corruption o'er the earth.
- H. P. Lovecraft, in an "Essay on Modern Poets" this was published as a "Fragment on Whitman” in The Ancient Track (2001) edited by S. T. Joshi, p. 192.
- I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman — I have detested you long enough.
- Ezra Pound, "A Pact".
- Whitman’s masterpiece, his whole vision, is exactly about this: life as a quest for truth, love, beauty, goodness, and freedom; life as the art of becoming human through the cultivation of the human soul.
- Rob Riemen, recalling a conversation with Joseph Goodman, Nobility of Spirit : A Forgotten Ideal (2008), p. xxvii.
- Whitman to me is the most fascinating of American poets. Whitman started to write the great poetry from scratch after he had written all that junk for newspapers, the sentimental lyrical poems. All of a sudden he wrote Leaves of Grass. When I was teaching at the University of Nebraska, my friend James Miller was chairman of the English Department. He wrote the first book attempting to make a parallel between the structure of Leaves of Grass and the steps of the mystical experience as in St. John of the Cross. I was completely bowled over by this, not having been able to explain how Whitman came to write “Song of Myself,” which is unlike anything not only in American literature, but unique in all the world. The parallels to it are mystical literature. Miller tried to show that there was actual evidence for this kind of experience, which evidently happens at a particular moment in someone’s life. … When I saw the negative reaction to Whitman with the great ruling critics of the time, I couldn’t believe it. Eliot never really gave up hammering away on Whitman, neither did Pound. Although Pound makes little concessions. Whitman, you know, didn’t have any influence in this country until Allen Ginsberg came along.
- I would think Walt Whitman probably had more influence on my whole poetic thinking than anybody, but I never dreamed of trying to write in the Whitman manner.
- Karl Shapiro, in "Karl Shapiro, The Art of Poetry No. 36", interviewed by Robert Phillips in Paris Review No. 99 (Spring 1986).