Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Poet, Essayist, Journalist, Printer, Teacher, Nurse
Born May 31, 1819, West Hills, Town of Huntington, Long Island, New York
Died March 26, 1892, Camden, New Jersey

I'll make this posting brief inasmuch as the facts of Walt Whitman's life are well known and easily accessible in any number of books and on any number of websites. He was born in 1819 on Long Island and spent most of his life in New York and New Jersey, mostly in the field of journalism but also as a writer of verse, especially after 1855 when he first published Leaves of Grass. Whitman was a new kind of poet in America, a Bohemian figure who wrote of himself and of his bustling, democratic, industrious nation.

Whitman also wrote of life and of death. Weird Tales preferred the latter subject and reprinted two of his poems, "Whispers of Heavenly Death" (Nov. 1925) and "Death Carol" (Mar. 1926). More importantly for the development of the weird tale, Walt Whitman appears to have been a model for the character of Bram Stoker's Dracula. I find that to be so odd as to be almost inconceivable, yet the case is made. Stoker knew Whitman personally, visiting with him in his New Jersey home three times between 1884 and 1887 and expressing a great admiration for and debt to Walt Whitman. Stoker began writing Dracula in 1890, Whitman passed away in 1892, and the book was published in 1897. You can read more about the connection in "Whitman's Influence on Stoker's Dracula" by Dennis R. Perry in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review (Dec. 1986) and in other sources.

Walt Whitman's Poems in Weird Tales
"Whispers of Heavenly Death" (Nov. 1925)
"Death Carol" (Mar. 1926)

The poet Walt Whitman. . . a model for Dracula?
A portrait of Dracula by the Spanish artist Enric Sio (1942-1998) from The Dracula Scrapbook by Peter Haining (1976). Mr. Haining called this "perhaps the most accurate likeness of the Dracula Stoker envisaged." The artist Sio may have created his drawing without knowing that Whitman was a model for Count Dracula, yet he arrived at this image, which bears a resemblance to the American poet.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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