Walt Whitman: 10 Misconceptions
Least to Greatest

by Mitchell Santine Gould, Curator, LeavesOfGrass.Org


The last, and greatest misconception of them all, is that Walt Whitman was merely a poet. No one can get at his purposes, he said, if they view Leaves of Grass as merely a “literary performance.” He often spoke of “the cause:” the rights of human beings to generally make their own decisions, and in particular, sexual decisions. In an early notebook, he confided his fondest wish for Leaves of Grass: “My final aim To concentrate around me the leaders of all reforms — transcendentalists, spiritualists, free soilers.”

Susan B Anthony, lesbian Quaker
Susan B Anthony, lesbian Quaker

Readers unconciously compare Walt to Emily Dickinson: another eccentric genius who failed to lead a heterosexual life, and someone who showed how poetry could acquire unprecedented power. But as a gay Quaker, Walt Whitman had far more in common with the lesbian Quaker, Susan B Anthony — a courageous defender of women’s rights.