Back Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman photographed by Matthew Brady, c. 1860–1865. (National Archives and Records Administration; public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Major works:
Leaves of Grass (1855 edition) • Drum-TapsDemocratic VistasSpecimen DaysLeaves of Grass (1891 edition) • “Song of Myself” • “I Sing the Body Electric” • “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” • “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” • “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”

“Whitman is a kind of litmus paper, perhaps a seismograph. Reading him, we become aware of an awful, lost innocence, and are not certain whether the innocence was real or in Whitman’s imagination. He gave his whole life to a book, he freed literature to go courses that were until Whitman unsuspected. . . . He is our archetypal poet, our great invention in literature, our lyric voice. I like to think that eventually he will shame us into becoming Americans again.”
—Guy Davenport

Read the poem

A Noiseless Patient Spider

Walt Whitman
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.
Read a passage from A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman
Library of America

A champion of America’s great writers and timeless works, Library of America guides readers in finding and exploring the exceptional writing that reflects the nation’s history and culture.

Learn More

From poetry, novels, and memoirs to journalism, crime writing, and science fiction, the more than 300 volumes published by Library of America are widely recognized as America’s literary canon.

Browse our books Subscribe

With contributions from donors, Library of America preserves and celebrates a vital part of our cultural heritage for generations to come.

Support our mission