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  /  May   /  May 31-June 3, 2018 – Walt Whitman, Other Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays
Photo of Walt Whitman.

May 31-June 3, 2018 – Walt Whitman, Other Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays

Welcome to the May 31-June 3, 2018 edition of Bidwell Hollow. May 31 is the birthday of Walt Whitman and Elizabeth Coatsworth. And June 3 is the birthday of Beat Generation poet and writer Alan Ginsburg. Whitman’s, “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” is this episode’s poem. Thank you for reading and sharing Bidwell Hollow with others. Have a wonderful Thursday and a terrific weekend. We’ll see you on Monday.

Walt Whitman

During the early days of the Civil War, Walt Whitman (affiliate link) worked as a freelance journalist and visited wounded soldiers in New York City.

But then Whitman learned that his brother, George Washington Whitman, was wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia. Whitman went to Washington, DC, to see his brother.Photo of Walt Whitman.

Though his brother suffered a minor wound, Whitman was impacted by the injured soldiers he saw. He decided to stay in the nation’s capital to help care for the war’s wounded veterans.

Whitman had, by that time, self-published a book of 12 poems titled, “Leaves of Grass.” The poet sent a copy of his book to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

So impressed was Emerson by Whitman’s work, that he sent the poet a letter in which Emerson told Whitman, “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.”

Despite Emerson’s praise, Whitman couldn’t support himself with his poetry. In 1865 in DC, Whitman took a job as a clerk in the Department of Interior’s Indian Bureau. He lasted six months.

Whitman was fired from his job once Interior Secretary James Harlan discovered that a clerk he employed had written “Leaves of Grass.” Harlan considered the book’s poetry to be obscene.

For the rest of his life, Whitman survived on what royalties his art earned and on donations from benefactors who appreciated his work.

Whitman, born today in 1819 in West Hills, NY, periodically released revised editions of “Leaves of Grass” over the final 30 years of his life. The book contained at the time of his death 383 poems, including one of his most famous poems, “O Captain! My Captain!”

Elizabeth Coatsworth

Cover of Elizabeth Coatsworth's, "The Cat Who Went to Heaven."

Affiliate link

Today is the birthday of writer Elizabeth Coatsworth (affiliate link), born in 1893 in Buffalo, NY.

Coatsworth’s first book, “Fox Footprints,” was a collection of poetry for adults. It was published in 1923.

But one of Coatsworth’s friends had recently launched a children’s publishing division at Macmillan. This inspired Coatsworth to write her first children’s book, “The Cat and the Captain.” It came out in 1927.

Coatsworth’s next book was published three years later. “The Cat Who Went to Heaven” is the story of a poor artist in Japan who’s commissioned to create a painting of Buddha.

The book netted Coatsworth a 1931 Newbery Medal.

Coatsworth published over 90 books, writing for children and adults. Her final, which was released in 1976, was an autobiography.

Allen Ginsberg

On June 3, 1926, Allen Ginsberg (affiliate link) was born in Newark, NJ.

Photo of Allen Ginsberg.

Credit: Dijk, Hans van / Anefo

As a student at Columbia University, Ginsberg met Neal Cassady, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac. Ginsberg’s relationship with these writers and poets led him to believe art should be expressed without repression and inhibition.

Ginsberg graduated from Columbia in 1948. Then in June 1949, he was arrested for letting a friend store stolen goods in his apartment. But a couple of Columbia professors arranged for Ginsberg to avoid jail by having him placed in a mental institution for eight months.

After he got out, Ginsberg worked as a market researcher. And he helped develop an ad for Ipana toothpaste. The campaign featured a jingle, “brusha brusha brusha,” which was sung in a scene in the movie, “Grease.”

It was in art, though, that Ginsberg would make his name.

After moving to San Francisco in 1954, Ginsberg fell in with other poets. A year later, on Oct. 7, 1955, Ginsberg read one of his poems at the Six Gallery.

The poem was, “Howl.” Some today consider it the seminal piece of the Beat Generation. It’s printing by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights prompted a now-famous censorship trial.

Ginsberg published several poetry collections, including “The Fall of America: Poems of These States.” The collection won the 1973 National Book Award.

“A Noiseless Patient Spider”

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.


And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

– Walt Whitman, Public Domain

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