Transcription and Transformation: On Whitman’s Disciple, and an Exciting WWBA Event!

Horace Traubel

In 1873, fifty-four year old Whitman moved into his brother George’s home in Camden, New Jersey after suffering a stroke that left Whitman partially paralyzed just four months prior. There, he met Horace Traubel, who served as the poet’s disciple during the final years of Whitman’s life. Traubel was, among other things, a friend, a caretaker, and–most importantly to fans of Whitman–a transcriber of the poet’s thoughts and opinions on matters both great and small. In the mid-1880’s, Traubel began recording his daily conversations with Whitman until the poet died in 1892. From these notes, Traubel gathered enough information from Whitman to fill nine volumes of work, entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden. A more detailed history of Traubel’s life and his nine volume work can be found here.

 Below is a quote from Walt, discussing the art of writing poetry from a conversation with Traubel:

“If a fellow is to write poetry the secret is–get in touch with humanity–know what the people are thinking about: retire to the very deepest sources of life–back, back till there is no farther point to retire to.” (1)

-Walt Whitman

This rumination by Whitman felt particularly appropriate for today’s WWBA blog because of an exciting upcoming event:

If any followers are interested in “retir[ing] to the very deepest sources of life” and writing their own poetry, the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association is now offering a writing workshop facilitated by Pramila Venkateswaran, the WWBA 2011 Long Island Poet of the Year! The series is called “Telling Stories of Liberation and Transformation” and will take place over three Saturdays: workshop sessions on September 8th and September 15th from 1-3pm, and a poetry reading by workshop participants on September 22nd at 4pm. Click here for more information about the workshop and registration. Space is limited, so be sure to register now to participate in this enriching literary experience.

This workshop is a great opportunity for Whitman fans to be inspired to write their own poetry while enjoying the surroundings of Whitman’s birthplace!

(1) Schmidgall, Gary. Intimate with Walt: Selections from Whitman’s Conversations with Horace Traubel 1888-1892. The Iowa Whitman Series.


An Unexpected Legacy: The Long-Islander

At the age of twelve, Whitman became an apprentice on the Long Island Patriot, a working class newspaper.  His first signed article appeared in the New York Mirror in 1834.  At nineteen, after teaching in Huntington for three years, Whitman showed his passion for journalism by starting a local newspaper called The Long-Islander . Even though The Long Island Star warned him it was “a dubious business venture” (1), in 1838 he assumed the role of writer, editor, and printer of The Long-Islander, a publication that continues to circulate today nearly two centuries later.

Whitman’s first published poem, entitled “Our Future Lot”, was published in the The Long-Islander in 1839. Though there is no existing copy of Whitman’s The Long Islander, a highly revised version of “Our Future Lot”, re-titled “Time to Come,” was later reprinted in The Democratic Review.

Whitman’s “A Time to Come” published in The Democratic Review in 1842.

Whitman’s ownership of the newspaper was brief and he sold The Long-Islander after ten months, in 1839.  “Time to Come” is an early example of Whitman’s preoccupation with mortality and the fate of the spirit after death, a theme that shaped much of his later work.

Today, the masthead displays the face of Whitman on the front page with the tag line underneath, “Founded by Walt Whitman.”  Another tagline sits over the newspaper’s title and reads, “Since 1838, Nobody Covers News Better Than The Long-Islander”.

The current editor of The Long-Islander is on the board of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, and the poetry editor is their Writer in Residence.  This makes an even stronger connection between Walt’s newspaper and the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. With a copy of The Long-Islander in hand, the modern admirer of Whitman’s work can participate in the poet’s unexpected journalistic legacy!

This historic story and other information can be found at


The Poet Returns: Whitman’s Visit to West Hills

131 years ago, Walt Whitman returned to his birthplace.

Walt Whitman’s Birthplace in 1920, 39 years after his 1881 visit.

During the first week in August in 1881, when he was 65 years old, Walt Whitman visited West Hills and his birthplace with his friend Richard Maurice Bucke. Happy to share his memories of the place that first formed his creative mind, Whitman wrote to the New York Tribune. Below is the letter he sent:

“A Week at West Hills.”

New York Tribune, August 4, 1881

Sir: I have been for the last two weeks jaunting around Long Island, and now devote this letter to West Hills (Suffolk County, 30 miles from New York), and the main purpose of a journey thither, to resume and identify my birth-spot, and that of my parents and their parents, and to explore the picturesque regions comprised in the townships of Huntington and Cold Spring Harbor. I shall just give my notes verbatim as I pencilled them.

Went down nearly a mile further to the house where I was born (May 31, 1819) in the fertile meadow land. As I paused and looked around I felt that any good farmer would have gloated over the scene. Rich corn in tassel, many fields; they had cradled their wheat and rye, and were cutting their oats. Everything had changed so much, and it looked so fine, I began to doubt about the house, and drove in and inquired, to be certain. I saw Mrs. J— wife of the owner, (son of the J— that bought the farm of my father 60 years ago.) She was very courteous, and invited us in (Dr. Bucke, of Canada, with me), but we declined.

We drove back to the homestead, let down some bars at the foot of a slope, and ascended to a spot most interesting of all.

The Whitmans as originally spreading from this outset, were long-lived, most of them farmers, had big families, and were strenuous for the best education that could be obtained. One is mentioned as a great linguist, and sometimes acted in the courts as interpreter with the Indians; and down to the present date twelve of the name have graduated at Harvard, five at Yale and nine at other New England colleges. There have been ministers and deacons and teachers by the dozen.

I write this back again at West Hills on the high elevation (the highest spot on Long Island?) of Jayne’s Hill, which we have reached by a fascinating winding road. A view of thirty or forty, or even fifty or more miles, especially to the east and south and southwest; the Atlantic Ocean to the latter points in the distance–a glimpse or so of Long Island Sound to the north.

Huntington, Aug. 1.–We are just leaving; a perfect day in sun, temperature after the rain of yesterday and last night. I am indebted to Charles Velsor, Henry Lloyd, John Chichester, Lemuel Carll, Lawyer Street, Charles Shepard and other friends and relatives, for courtesies. Seems to me I have had the memorable though brief and quiet jaunt of my life. Every day a point attained; every day something refreshing, Nature’s medicine. All about here, an area of many miles, Huntington, Cold Spring Harbor, East and West and Lloyd’s Neck (to say nothing of the water views), the hundreds of tree-lined roads and lanes, with their turns and gentle slopes, the rows and groves of locusts, after the main objects of my jaunt, made the most attraction, as I rode around. I didn’t know there was so much in mere lanes and trees. I believe they have done me more good than all the swell scenery I could find.

August 3, 1881 W.W.

A broadside of this letter can be purchased in our gift shop for $0.95.

An Eclectic Collection: A New Exhibit in the Gathering House

The Gathering House is now home to a unique Whitman exhibit!

Ed Centeno has graciously offered to put his collection of Walt Whitman memorabilia on display at the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site. The exhibit features postage stamps, advertisements, pins and much more. The eclectic collection shows how ubiquitous Walt Whitman is in our daily lives, infiltrating every aspect of popular culture and day-to-day activities.

Ed Centeno, the Collector

Below is a description of the exhibit in the words of the collector himself:

“What sparked my interest in memorabilia depicting Walt Whitman’s image and words in commercial products and advertising occurred during research I performed for an article for a philatelic club newsletter about poets appearing on postage stamps. Coincidentally, to my surprise, I learned that Whitman had lived in the same city where I spent five of my teenage years—Camden, New Jersey.

My objective in collecting and specializing in the commercialization of Whitman was to enrich my experience with the past, acquaint myself with the phenomenon of Whitman’s popularity, and to preserve this aspect of the Whitman experience for future generations. I stress that my intention of this type of collecting was not to make a critical appraisal of his writing, but rather to generate curiosity among those not familiar with Whitman’s work, hoping it would spark an interest in familiarizing themselves with his poetry and fascinating life.

The initial collection consisted of philatelic material: stamps, covers, cancellations, postcards, and the like. Twenty years later an entire room (my “Whitman Library”) of our house is devoted to this collection. Among the items included are: pop art, advertisements, first editions, matchbooks, cigar, food product, and beer labels, compact disks and sheet music, periodicals, buttons, mugs, medals, and on and on.”

We hope that everyone gets a chance to visit the exhibit and see a different side of Whitman’s legacy!

The exhibit will be on display until the end of the summer.

 Tour fee includes exhibit.  Discount  for Students, Seniors, and Vets.

The Ubiquitous Poet: Walt Whitman in Pop Culture

It’s easy to fall in love with Walt Whitman’s poetry.

Linocut by Paul Peter Piech featuring lines from Whitman’s poem “I Sing the Body Electric”. The title is used in a song for the Broadway show “Fame”. (Currently displayed in the classroom)

It speaks to all men and women, creating connections through nature and human commonalities. It’s no wonder that Whitman’s life and poetry have been referenced in countless books, movies and songs.

At the Walt Whitman Birthplace, we want to create a compilation of the best film scenes, song clips and literary quotes written and created by others that showcase Walt Whitman. To aid in our endeavor, we want you to share your favorite Walt Whitman pop culture moment!

To share your favorite Whitman reference,

Comment on this blog or e-mail us at

Living History: Fun and Learning at Walt Whitman’s Birthplace

Children’s Summer Program Week

 July 30th-August 3rd 2012

9:30am-1:30pm ~Ages 7-12

Children immerse themselves in both a fun and learning experience, as they make history come alive! The week begins with a guided tour of an authentically furnished 19th century farmhouse, the Walt Whitman Birthplace. Participants will be guided by a knowledgeable counselor as they incorporate history, crafts, period games, and physical activity into each exciting day!

The house where Walt Whitman was born

The House where Walt Whitman was born

The program will have a daily theme; for example, Native American Day, Victorian Day, Twentieth Century Day, Walt’s Day and Parent Participant Day–– and much, much more!

Glimpse the past through making a Cornhusk Figure, or grow a plant as you would on a 1800’s farm, or “go green” by constructing “Walt’s Well” using recyclable materials. Or light up your day by creating an Electric Circuit.

The Interpretive Center

Parents are invited to visit at the end of the program to view their child’s accomplishments.

The Picnic Area

The Gathering House

Children can enjoy their bagged lunch on picnic tables in the lovely garden or in the spacious air conditioned classroom. Some activities will be held in the impressive Interpretive Center, others in the cozy Gathering House (both air conditioned) or in the historic house in which Walt Whitman was born (all facilities are on site). Perhaps you will “feel” the inspiration of America’s great poet!

 Don’t miss this exciting educational experience!


$110/additional sibling

For Further information or to register, contact Carolyn 

631-427-5240, ext. 113

Celebrating America and its Poetry

Happy July Fourth!!!!!          

Cover of the first edition of Leaves of Grass

This week, 157 years ago, Walt Whitman self-published the first edition of Leaves of Grass. The exact day of publication is not certain, but we know that it was released either on or within a few days of July fourth. He would go on to revise and publish the collection of poems a total of eight times between 1855 and 1891.

The collection of poetry, known best for the poem “Song of Myself,” was not warmly accepted in the poetry community; some did not even consider it a book of poetry, denying the collection the title of “literature” because it did not rhyme. Even the praise of Ralph Waldo Emerson could not help Leaves’ sell.

In Leaves of Grass, Whitman did not sign his name. He instead printed this etching on the inside cover.

Overtime, however, and with the addition of Civil War poems featured in Whitman’s Drum Taps, Leaves of Grass gained popularity. The poet himself became quite the celebrity during his life time, affectionately known as the “Good Gray Poet”; however, at heart he still longed to be the voice of the “divine average.”

Today, Leaves of Grass is one of the most celebrated collections of poetry. It is read in countless countries and continues to inspire millions around the world.

To read the various editions of Leaves of Grass, visit the Walt Whitman Archive

Walking with Walt

The Walt Whitman Birthplace is listed as the starting point of the Walt Whitman Trail. The trail overlooks Route 110, covering the Western edge of Suffolk County and gives access to Jayne’s hill, a favorite place of Walt Whitman himself, and miles of hiking trails that include the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail giving access to an additional 40 miles of trails.

It’s a fun trail for day hikers, strollers and lovers of nature. What better way to connect to Walt Whitman than to walk in his footsteps?

Below is a basic map of the Walt Whitman Trail. If you are interested in knowing more, the Walt Whitman Birthplace Gift Shop sells a $3.00 booklet that describes the trails in detail.

An Overview of the Walt Whitman Trail

I Hear Long Island Students Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
-Walt Whitman        (1860)

On June 3rd The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association hosted the Twenty-Sixth Annual Young Poets Contest. This year’s theme, “I Hear America Singing” encouraged many young men and women to write wonderful poems inspired by Walt Whitman’s poetry.

The categories included individual poems, class anthologies and individual anthologies separated by grades that spanned third to twelfth grade. The contest judges, Gladys Henderson, Anne Kingsbury and Ginger Williams expressed that so many incredible poems came their way that it was difficult to choose the winners.

Proud parents, grandparents, teachers and classmates gathered together on the bright Sunday afternoon to hear original poetry read by the first place winners. The first place winners are listed below:

  • Jack Strauss, Laurel Hill School: “I Hear America Singing”
  • Elena Metcalf, Long Island School for the Gifted: “Dreams of Music”
  • Summar Khan, Manhasset Middle School: America Sings
  • Miriam Levitin, Manhasset High School: “Life’s Song”
  • Melvin Li, Ward Melville High School: “The Song of the Brooklyn Bridge”
  • Kyle Montemurro, Walt Whitman High School: “Cookie Crumbs” from Everything As It Should Be Poetry Anthology

We were also honored to hear both original poetry and Whitman’s own poetry read by Pramila Venkateswaran, the 2012 WWA Long Island Poet of the Year.

The day was made even more colorful by 19th century fiddle music played by Mary Nagin and even an appearance by “Walt Whitman” (courtesy of Darrel Blaine Ford, Whitman Personator). Walt took pictures with the winners and provided witty comments while Cynthia Shor (Executive Director) and Carolyn Diglio (Education Coordinator) presented the awards. In addition to recognition, each winner, even those part of the classroom anthologies received gift bags, courtesy of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association.

The event was a great success. It was a fantastic opportunity to bring together the community, poets of all ages, and lovers of Walt Whitman.

To see a list of all the winners, click here!

The Winning Poems can be read below.

Jack Strauss – First Place – Category A, Grade 4                                                         The Laurel Hill School – Mrs. Cardosanto 

I Hear History Singing the History”

Those historians, each one singing Yankee Doodle.

Elvis Presley singing as he rocks out.

George Washington singing as he fights
Or singing The Declaration of Independence.

John Glenn singing as he watches space,
Abe Lincoln as he tries to stop slavery.

Thomas Jefferson singing as he writes freedom.

I hear history, singing the history

With his feather pen, Ben Franklin
Singing on the hard ground flying a kite.

The Wright Brothers singing as they create
the first plane in the woods.

John Adams’ song, Franklin Roosevelt
Singing during WW2 in his office.

The sweet song of Henry Ford, or of
The nice John Q. Adams singing or Teddy
Roosevelt running and singing.

Elena Metcalf – First Place – Category B, Grade 5
The Long Island School for the Gifted – Mrs. Williams 

“Dreams of Music”

I tune my ears to the world when I am tired of the radio
Beautiful music floods my ears; I leap up and run outside to enjoy the chorus of life.
I jump out the door and run down the street.
My feet are instruments, drumming on the ground.
A little boy and girl sing of the wind rushing through their hair as they twirl.
The butcher belts out a tune as his knife thuds onto the cutting board.
The flowers seem as if they are wafting a song into the air
Instead of their wondrous aroma.
Sing! Sing! Let your voices ring out!
A short little ditty or an hour long
As long as you are heard!
The sun sings with a tone that outshines all the others,
As he slides across the sky.
Before I can sing my own tune,
My breath is taken away
By the chirping of the stars,
The grass rustles out a hymn beneath my feet as I spin.
Just before the melody of my sleep
Joins the songs of others,
The harmony of the wolf and the moon
Lulls me into dreams of music.

Summar Khan – First Place – Category C, Grade 7
The Long Island School for the Gifted – Mrs. Williams

“America Sings”

America is always singing,
Singing songs of joy, hope, and freedom,
Songs adults hum on their way to work,
Songs that children sing with each other as they play happily,
Songs of a family on Thanksgiving when everyone is together.
Songs sung to cheer one up,
Songs of opportunity,
And lullabies our mothers sang us to sleep with.
Songs of pride and faith in our country.
America sings many different songs in many ways.
But the song that drowns out the others is the song that everyone knows in his heart,
America sings a song of love.

Miriam Levitin – First Place – Category D, Grade 9
Manhasset High School – Mrs. Winterling

“Life’s Song”

A lighthouse sings ships’ way home
Stars gleam and shine, singing reminders of the past, and promises for the future
The sun sings as it bestows light and warmth upon the earth
Rivers sing as they flow between banks, their bubbling sound adding to the chorus of song around them
A butterfly beats its delicate wings, sipping nectar from flowers in a soft but elegant song
A seed roots and slowly pushes itself up, singing as the tiny bud breaks the surface of the earth to face the sun
Rain falls to the ground, the fat drops hitting cold pavement in a rhythmic song
A storm rages overhead, its song one of conflict eventually resolved
Waves crash on the shore, singing the song of the sounding sea
A beautiful song resounds as a human smiles; laughs; eyes lighting up with pure happiness
Eyes gaze, their song searching, reflecting the emotion behind them
A pulse beats, singing the sweet sound of precious life
Lungs breathe, their song the subtle sound of filling with and releasing air
Running is a song, sneakers slapping the ground in a steady beat
Children play, their giggles a nostalgic song to old ears
A young child with its big eyes sings of curiosity and wonder
A person’s courage and bravery sings of pride and honor
Love is a complex song, filled with joy and sorrow, carrying both memories and fate of the future
A dream is a fragile song of hope and promise
Life is full of exquisite, mellifluous songs; songs or remorse, songs of hope, songs of every kind possible imaginable
When you’re lost, afraid, confused, hurt, lonely, inspired, curious, thoughtful, elusive, evasive, quiet yourself, be still the world. Just close your eyes, and listen. Listen to life’s song.

Melvin Li – First Place – Category E, Grade 11
Ward Melville High School – Mrs. DiIorio

“The Song of the Brooklyn Bridge”

With the sun half an hour high in the west,
I enter the Promenade boardwalk basking in its golden rays.
I come from the east, the green fields way beyond Huntington Station,
To look at the storied bridge, the grand river, and the omnipresent seagulls.
Although a century and a half too late, I still want to listen to what Whitman had to tell the future generation he was anticipating.
And by crossing time’s shores, catch the echoes of those songs he once sang
of America.

The Brooklyn Bridge! Its magnificent stone towers, facing each other across 1600 feet,
Soar into the sky, and its steel cables split the winds and sing of memory and time.
The stately and admirable river flows, its waves palling as the shores,
Singing of life, seasons, and eternity.
The seagulls still float in the sky, eyeing all and singing their untold stories,
And their bodies are painted a glowing yellow by the evening sun.
The bountiful hills of Brooklyn are beautiful as ever, full of humming and song,
But the tall masts hemming Manhattan have all vanished,
Replaced by a few speedy motorboats whose motors let out songs of power and passion.

The Promenade boardwalk, hanging like a cradle of life over the six-lane traffic below,
Is filled with pedestrians of various kinds: men, women, young, old, where, black, and brown…
All casually attired, approaching or passing, gazing or pointing, talking or laughing.
They look on the river and sky, their voices bubbly, excited, varying in cadence,
In all the flavors of English, some in unknown tongues.
Although I don’t understand all their languages, I can hear their hearts bursting into songs of Whitman’s democratic vistas.

Under the stone tower on the Manhattan side, a young man leans against the railings
And plucks at his guitar. I know not the tune, but my heart yearns to sing along.
I want to sing of the free spirit of America, soaring like the stone towers of the bridge into the clouds.
I want to sing of the brave hearts of America, defending this land of plenty for all.
I want to sing of the omnifarious humanity on the bridge enjoying themselves on a splendid day.
The Brooklyn Bridge! Of you I sing, a seasoned witness for the past 129 years of a glorious city,
A quintessential landmark that bridges not only one borough to another,
But time’s invisible shores so that my songs of America mingle with those of America’s greatest bard.

Kyle Montemurro – Category L -Walt Whitman HS
Everything As It Should Be:
Poetry Anthology

Cookie Crumbs”

Fell into the armpit of my grandfather’s chair
As I navigated an innocent world,
Where smoke stacks were cloud makers
And concrete protected worms.
My young mind turned what it couldn’t understand
Into what it could bear to comprehend.
Even then deep within, I knew it was easier to pretend.
So that’s what I did.
I quickly swept the evidence,
The crumbs rejected by my mouth,
In between the cushions before my mother could see.
The comfort of the chair swallowed me
and I fell asleep,
unconscious of the fact that one day
my world would crumble.
I slept for a long time.
I was six.

Special Thanks to the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association and its Staff, Guides and Volunteers.