*This essay was originally written for a Graduate course on American Poetry in Fall 2010.
Walt Whitman’s personal inconsistencies regarding his position on slavery have been the subject of much scholarly criticism and debate. It has been well documented that Walter Whitman, the journalist, political activist and public figure, held dramatically opposing views on slavery and race concerns than did Walt Whitman, the poet, bard of democracy and champion of equality. The latter Whitman used his poetry–particularly the many editions of Leaves of Grass–to indulge in a sense of admiration, identification, sympathy and respect for the “hounded slave,” while the former was an active member of several political parties, composed ideological editorials in a few political publications and was for some time, an ardent opponent of the abolitionist movement. Given his blatant paradoxical ideologies and his transparently polar vision on slavery, how is a twenty-first century reader supposed to reconcile these contradictions? Read the rest of this entry