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Yesterday I watched a documentary video, in two parts, about the life of Walt Whitman. I didn't really know much about him. I had a vague idea he was one of the most important American poets of the 19th century. I knew he was a deeply spiritual man who felt a close affinity to nature. The closest I came to reading any of his works was the title of a Ray Bradbury short story - 'I Sing the Body Electric' - borrowed from one of Whitman's most famous poems.
What I didn't know was his depth of compassion and empathy for his fellow human beings. At the end of the American Civil War there was a huge make-shift hospital for wounded soldiers in Washington DC. Many of the patients were 15 or 16-year-old lads. They were alone, scared, most of them penniless, facing painful convalescence or death. Whitman visited the hospital every day. He sat with them for hours, talking to them, helping those who were convalescing, consoling those who were dying. He took small gifts of cash, an apple or a pear, writing paper and stamped envelopes. Many of them were illiterate, and Whitman wrote letters to their families.
It's a very interesting documentary, available on Youtube: In Search of Walt Whitman. It's produced by East Rock Films. In the video description you can find links to part 2, and a site where educators can download discussion guides. The documentary made quite a profound impression on me. I'm still mulling over my thoughts and feelings about it. Recommended.