Stamp Issued in Walt Whitman’s Honor

The Walt Whitman Birthplace hosted a celebration Thursday of the first stamp issued in the poet’s honor.

The 32nd in the U.S. Post Office Literary Arts Series, the stamp helps mark the bicentennial of the poet’s birth in Huntington Station. The birthplace has been celebrating his bicentennial throughout the year.

Cynthia L. Shor, executive director of the birthplace association, welcomed guests to the celebration, which was emceed by Michael Gargiulo of WNBC. Also speaking were Cara M. Greene, vice president and controller of the USPS, Erik Kulleseid, state parks commissioner, and Jeffrey S. Gould, board of trustees of the birthplace association.

Whitman’s poetry was modern in “the topics and themes explored — freedom, human dignity, and democracy,” said Cara Greene, USPS vice president, controller. Greene dedicated the 85-cent stamp, which is intended for domestic First-Class Mail weighing up to 3 ounces. “Whitman was more than a giant in American literature,” said Greene. “He was a remarkable human being who helped nurse thousands of the Civil War’s sick and dying soldiers.”

Writing powerfully about nearly every aspect of 19th-century American life, Whitman aimed to embody the nation’s democratic ethos itself. Scholars interpret his use of poetry as breaking down artificial boundaries that separate man and woman, city and countryside, free and enslaved, poet and laborer — and ultimately the self and the universe.

His groundbreaking works include “Song of Myself,” in which Whitman argues that only through democracy, and the broad liberty that it promises, can the country approach the divine. Other poems include “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” the best known of his urban pieces; and “I Sing the Body Electric,” in which Whitman boldly treats the physical body as equal to the soul.

The stamp, at a 3-ounce rate, non-denominated, mail use, was issued nationwide Thursday. The artist for the stamp was Sam Weber. 

The stamp features a portrait of Whitman based on a photograph taken by Frank Pearsall in 1869. In the background, a hermit thrush sitting on the branch of a lilac bush recalls “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom‘d,” an elegy for President Abraham Lincoln written by Whitman soon after Lincoln‘s assassination on April 14, 1865.

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