Walt Whitman is considered one of the most influential poets because his words dealt directly with their lives. He did not intentionally sugar coat his words and he attempted to tell of their lives as he thought them to be lived. Of course he was seeing through his own inner vision and was not privileged to know all their secrets. However, he knew enough of them that they recognized him their brother, their son, their poet.
He is an important enough writer to be included in the Immortal Poems of the English Language by the poet Oscar Williams. He is in there with other such beloveds such as Shakespeare, Donne, Tennyson, Milton, Keats, Wordworth, Elliot, and Frost, among others. Oscar Williams in his Anthology includes both American and European writers. In fact fifteen pages or thereabouts are devoted to his poems while Frost and Melville get only one.
Heading the list in this anthology is O Captain, My Captain. It was written after the assassination of President Lincoln. "O Captain, my Captain! Our fear trip is done, the ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won" The ought after prize was the freeing of the slaves, the eliminating from the face of this country the hateful wrong use of the lives of others. In this poem Whitman shows that although this important man's life was cut short, it was a life that had served its purpose well.
It was indeed fitting that this be compared to a ship since it was ships that had brought slavery to this continent. A ship is a strong thing and so were Lincoln and his and all those dedicated to the "proposition that all men be free". And not let's forget the famous Constitution, the ship that worked so hard for this country's freedom. The poem Whitman wrote is among his very best and helps clinch his value as an American poet. He is not to be shelved and all but forgotten anyways soon.
He lived during the Civil War and had met Lincoln and has helped pass along some fond memories of him. In the months after Lincoln's death Whitman's wrote his Memories of President Lincoln. Out of this batch of writings printed in The Norton Anthology of American Literature is When Lilacs Last in the Doorway Bloomed. "When lilacs last in the door way bloom'd, / and the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night, / I mourned and yet shall mourn with returning spring."
Whitman missed little from the world all around him. From his own listening to the sounds of the civil war he lived through as a fighter and as a helper to wounded soldiers this he wrote. (Drum Beats): "Beat, beat drums, Blow, bugles, blow? /Through the windows - through the doors - Burst like a ruthless force, / Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation / into the school where the scholar is studying; leave not the bridegroom quiet - no happiness must he have now with his bride, / nor the peaceful farmer any peace, plowing his field or gathering his grain. / So fierce you whirr and pound your drums - so shall you bugles blow."