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Picturing Walt Whitman

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[Daguerreotype portrait of Walt Whitman.] Image ID: 427882

The life and work of Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892) are prodigiously documented in the Oscar Lion Collection, held in the New York Public Library's Rare Books Division. This daguerreotype portrait of the poet in 1853 or 1854, one of the earliest surviving photographs of Whitman, was taken by an unknown photographer. Many of Whitman's portraits have been given nicknames, and this was dubbed the "Christ likeness" by Richard Maurice Bucke, the Canadian physician and Whitman biographer. Whitman's interest in his "image" and its effects is traceable over the years in his photographs and other portraits. In the 1840s we see the man about town; in the 1850s the man of the people, the working man; and in the 1860s, the Civil War years, the Wound Dresser. Later there is the "laughing philosopher" and the prophet of democracy. This image-consciousness is noticeable too in Whitman's own reviews ofLeaves of Grass where he concentrates as much on the person and persona of the poet as on the poems themselves.

Related Publication: I Am with You: Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1855-2005)

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