Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Poet at Work
Walt Whitman, half-length portrait, seated, facing left, wearing hat and sweater, holding butterfly

[Detail] Walt Whitman holding butterfly

The Writing Process | Style | Mood | Journal Writing

Walt Whitman Notebooks, 1847-1860s allows students to study several aspects of poetry, including the writing process, the uses of style, the creation of mood, and the relationship between poetry and prose. In addition to his journals, Whitman's cardboard butterfly occasions an exploration into the relationship between multiple creative media.

The Writing Process

Notebook LC #101

Notebook LC #101 "Hospital" Notebook --"Platner and Porter, Congress," page 8 Walt Whitman Notebooks, 1847-1860s

Comparing pages 12 and 15 of Notebook #86, students may witness how Whitman developed and refined his ideas as he wrote. They can see how Whitman revised these journal entries for later publication by comparing pages 65 and 68-72 of Notebook #80 to lines of "Song of Myself" or pages 200-201 of Notebook #94 to his poem, "Quicksand Years" and page 189 to "A Noiseless Patient Spider". Whitman's process of editing is evidenced on numerous pages, including page 8 of Notebook #101 where Whitman has written with two different pens. Finally, a letter and corrected reprint in the Library's collection, Words and Deeds in American History, demonstrates how poets continue to rework their poetry even after publication. Ask students to consider the following questions.

  • What words and passages did Whitman cross out? What did he replace them with? Why do you think he made these choices? How do they change the meaning?
  • What do we learn about an author's intentions and goals in reading multiple drafts of one written work?
  • How has this process of rewriting and editing changed with the use of computers? Have scholars lost something valuable in not being able to see words crossed out or drafts rewritten?