EMERSON, NEW ORLEANS, AND AN EMERGING VOICE
While Whitman's commitment to the cause of Free Soil only became more firmly entrenched in the face of Democratic election losses and his dismissal from the Eagle, at the same time he was pulled in a new and altogether different direction. Sometime during these years Whitman began reading Emerson, though it is impossible to say precisely when. The first time Whitmanwrites about reading Emerson, however, occurs in late 1847, just after the Democratic defeat in the New York State election. At approximately the same time he also begins to explore and create a wholly new and different voice--that of "the poet." Notebooks in which he began his experiments can fairly accurately be dated to 1847 ( NUPM 1:54). Whitman himself later said that he began "elaborating the plan of my poems . . . and shifting it in my mind through many years (from the age of twenty- eight to thirty-five)," thus confirming a date of 1847 ( CP, 1002). The peculiar combination of Whitman's increasing radicalization over slavery, on one hand, and the inspirational influence of Emerson, on the other, encouraged--even compelled--Whitman to begin his poetic explorations. And it is perhaps no coincidence that at the heart of this new poetry is a focus on slaves and slavery.
Whitman first became acquainted with Emerson's thinking in 1842, when he attended and reported on at least one of Emerson's lectures in New York City. In March 1842 Emerson delivered six lectures he had