Life and writings of Walt Whitman highlight recent Sesame Club meeting


Members of the Sesame Club recently met in the Pine Bluff Country Club Oak Room.

President Donna Davis opened the meeting, leading the reading of the Collect. Ellen Nuckolls was introduced and welcomed as a new member and repeated the Sesame Pledge.

After a short business meeting, Katy Walt presented the fourth program in the study series, “Poets and Poetry”, telling of the life and writings of Walt Whitman.

She opened her program with lines from “A Song”, which paints a scene of what Whitman had in mind when he thought of his home, America: “I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies. I will make inseparable cities, with their arms about each other’s necks; by the love of comrades, by the manly love of comrades.”

Whitman was born May 31, 1819, in West Hills, Long Island, New York. He was the second of nine children. The family moved to Brooklyn and, at the age of 12, he began to learn the printer’s trade. He fell in love with the printed word. After teaching himself to read, he favored the works of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and the bible. When fire destroyed the printing industry he began, at the age of 17, to teach in a one-room school. In 1841, he turned to journalism as a full-time career, founding a weekly newspaper, “The Long Islander.”

Whitman loved to travel and soon left his work for a Bohemian lifestyle in New Orleans, where he edited the “Crescent.” Here he experienced first-hand the slave market. He returned to Brooklyn in 1848 where he founded a “free soil” paper called “Brooklyn Freeman.”

In 1855, “Leaves of Grass”, the most famous of his writings was published. By 1861, it was into its third edition.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman declared to live a “purged and cleansed life.” In New York City, he continued his freelance work and saw the need to help the war wounded. His brother was one of those wounded in the war and Whitman moved to Washington, D.C. to care for him. He spent 11 years caring for the sick and wounded in the hospitals.

In 1865, he was hired as a clerk in the Department of the Interior but was fired when the secretary of the interior found his “Leaves of Grass” offensive.

Whitman never married. In 1870, he moved to Camden, N.J., to live with his mother and brother. In 1882, he published an updated “Leaves of Grass.”

After he suffered a severe heart attack, he moved into his own home and continued to work on his writings. His final piece was “Goodbye My Fancy.” In 1892, he died at age 73.

Whitman was known for his love of nature. He wanted to share with the world the way he saw America as a country and how he valued life. Walt concluded her program with a quotation from Whitman — “And our very flesh shall be a great poem.” Members were served refreshments at tables decorated with books of poetry by Whitman and lovely bird’s nest containers filled with winter arrangements. The hostesses were Sharon Wyatt, Betty Perryman and Anne Robinson.

The next meeting of Sesame Club will be Feb. 26.