Whitman’s New York

Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east;

Others will see the islands large and small;

Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high;

A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,

Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring in of the flood-tide, the falling back to the sea of the ebb-tide. . . .

I too lived – Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;

I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters around it.
. . .

I was Manhattanese, friendly and proud! . . .

                           ~Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

Right: Cat Hall (left) and Lizzie Lowe start out across the Brooklyn Bridge (photo by Anna Hughes).


Arguably America’s greatest poet, Whitman held many of his fellow Transcendentalists’ beliefs. He championed the common man while simultaneously celebrating the interconnectedness of all living beings. Though heavily influenced by the natural world, he nonetheless relished the vibrancy of the city. Travel through the links below on a journey that chronicles the New York of Whitman’s life.


Walt Whitman on Long Island

Born to working class parents in 1819, Whitman spent his early years on Long Island. Visit The Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center. Take a walking tour of the paths Whitman trod. Explore Jayne’s Hill, a place Whitman loved to hike. 

Left: Walt Whitman’s birthplace (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey or Historic American Engineering Record, HABS, NY,52-WEHI,1-4).

Walt Whitman in Brooklyn

In 1823, Whitman’s family moved to Brooklyn. Eight years later, he learned how to set type while apprenticed to an editor. Learn more about printing in the nineteenth century.

Left: A Stanhope Press from T.C. Hansard Typographia (1825, image ©The British Library).

After a brief stint in New York City, Whitman returned to Long Island, where he founded one weekly newspaper and worked on another. He taught sporadically during this period as well.

Left: At Bowne Printers, a reconstructed print shop and stationery store featured as part of the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan, Deidre Schaefer (right) learns to print using the same type of press Whitman would have used (photo by Linda Tate).

During the next twenty years, Whitman moved back and forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan. He worked for a number of publications during these years.

Left: Our group in front of the former offices of the Brooklyn Eagle. Pictured (left to right): Sarah Alouf, Cat Hall, Dr. Linda Tate, Anna Hughes, Deidre Schaefer, Dr. Patricia Dwyer, Dan Marrs, Lizzie Lowe (photo by Karen Karbiener).


Walt Whitman on the Brooklyn Ferry


Whitman’s work showed his deep passion for the city in which he lived. This is particularly the case in his famous poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Read about Brooklyn Heights and Fulton Ferry (now known as DUMBO), areas in which Whitman lived.

Left: Fulton Ferry (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, LC-D4-32602 DLC).



Learn about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which rendered the Catharine Slip Ferry (Whitman’s Brooklyn Ferry) obsolete by 1912. Though Whitman’s ferry is no longer in use, learn about other ferry optionsVisit the Walt Whitman Park in Brooklyn

Left: Brooklyn Bridge Park, featuring the words from "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" (pictured here: "and women generations," photo by Linda Tate).



Encompassing the former ferry dock, Fulton Ferry Landing Park is partially architecturally inspired by Whitman’s poems. Learn about the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Free access to the Brooklyn Bridge’s 6016’ span across the East River is available near both these parks; pedestrians and cyclists share this route.

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of our week-long trip was reading “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” while standing on the Brooklyn Bridge. We were joined by Whitman scholar Karen Karbiener.

It avails not, time nor place- distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh'd,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.

Left: Whitman scholar and tour guide Dr. Karen Karbiener (left) walks with Dr. Linda Tate across the Brooklyn Bridge (photo by Cat Hall).



Walt Whitman in Words

Around 1842, Whitman began keeping journals. Read his words, and see some of the ideas that would later appear in “Song of Myself.”

Left: Cover of Whitman’s earliest notebook. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Thomas Biggs Harned Walt Whitman Collection.



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In 1855, Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass. He probably set the type for the volume himself. Response to this work was widely varied. In an 1855 letter, fellow Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson hailed Leaves of Grass as “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.” The Saturday Review, however, claimed that the work was “exceedingly obscene,” suggesting that “if the Leaves of Grass should come into anybody’s possession, our advice is to throw them instantly behind the fire.” Other contemporary reviews were also negative.

In 1856, just one year later, Whitman released a new edition of Leaves of Grass, including an open letter to Emerson. During the next thirty-six years, Whitman reprinted, revised, and enlarged Leaves of Grass – totaling nine editions in all. To learn more about the evolution of these volumes, read this brief overview.

Left: Walt Whitman, 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. Right: Emerson's 1855 letter to Whitman (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of Walt Whitman, DLC 5809487).


Whitman's Love of America

Above: Page from Whitman's notebook: “I am the poet of the slaves.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Thomas Biggs Harned Walt Whitman Collection).

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise;
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse, and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine;
One of the Great Nation, the nation of many nations, the smallest the same, and the largest the same;
A southerner soon as a northerner – a planter nonchalant and hospitable, down by the Oconee I live;
A Yankee, bound by my own way, ready for trade, my joints the limberest joints on earth, and the sternest joints on earth;
A Kentuckian, walking the vale of the Elkhorn, in my deer-skin leggings – a Louisianian or Georgian;
A boatman over lakes or bays, or along coasts – a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes, or up in the bush, or with fishermen off Newfoundland;
At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and tacking;
At home on the hills of Vermont, or in the woods of Maine, or the Texan ranch;
Comrade of Californians – comrade of free north-westerners, (loving their big proportions;)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen – comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat;
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest;
A novice beginning, yet experient of myriads of seasons;
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion;
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker;
A prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.

                                                              ~Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

In 1862, Whitman left New York City and moved to Washington, D.C. He later moved to Camden, NJ (just across the river from Philadelphia), where he died in 1892. Many of the photos in the Whitman Image Gallery come from this later period, but there are enough from the earlier years to get a sense of the whole man.

Throughout his life, Whitman truly embraced the meaning of the word “American.” Read about his “Geographical Imagination.” And finally, listen to Whitman read his poem “America” recorded on an original Edison cylinder.

Left: Walt Whitman in 1869 (Pearsall, Frank, photographer. “Walt Whitman, half-length portrait, seated, facing left, left hand under chin.” Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Feinberg-Whitman Collection, Prints and Photographs Division).

This page was created by Deidre Schaefer, an English major at Shepherd College.

“American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide” was produced by students in ENGL 446, American Transcendentalism, and ENGL 447, American Literature and the Prominence of Place: A Travel Practicum. These courses were team-taught in the Department of English at Shepherd College (now Shepherd University), Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in Spring 2002 by Dr. Patricia Dwyer and Dr. Linda Tate. For more information on the course and the web project, visit “About This Site.” © 2003 Linda Tate.