I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul”—Walt Whitman (1819-92).
Walt Whitman was a journalist and poet who volunteered as a nurse in 1863-4, during the American Civil War. His major work, Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, was revised and expanded over the course of nine editions during his lifetime (with a tenth edition published posthumously in 1897).
Whitman’s poetry is intensely observant of the physical world, and deeply attuned to seasonal cycles and the passage of time. Birth and death, aging, disease, injury, love and passion all appear in his work, which is renowned for its oratory style, and its celebration of the embodied nature of human experience. “I sing the body electric”, he wrote. “And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?”
The poem continues: