Walt Whitman, 1819-1892


The American poet Walt Whitman used this three-quarter length portrait of himself as the frontispiece in the first edition of his major work, Leaves of Grass, published in 1855. It shows the 37-year old Whitman in laborer's clothes. Known as "the carpenter," the image is an icon of the American poet as "one of the roughs," or Everyman. Subsequent editions of Leaves of Grass depicted different Whitmans, ever more sophisticated and venerable. The elderly Whitman in 1891 reverted to an image of a young and urbane self, taken in Boston when he was working on the 1860 edition of the book. This work is a steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer (1826-1919) from a lost daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison. Whitman remarked about the portrait: "The worst thing about this is, that I look so damned flamboyant—as if I was hurling bolts at somebody—full of mad oaths—saying defiantly, to hell with you!" He also worried about the portrait because "many people think the dominant quality in Harrison's picture is its sadness," but he nevertheless liked the portrait. It also appeared in the 1856 edition of Leaves, in the 1876 one, and in other subsequent editions.

Last updated: October 16, 2012