In "When Last in the Dooryard Lilacs Bloomed," Whitman writes about death, his understanding of it, and even personifies it multiple ways all in one very long poem. He writes about a certain bird singing in the forrest as one of his teachers about death, and he hears in its song important thoughts about it. This is similar to Transcendentalists in that they thought that observing nature was the best way to learn about life and morality. Emerson specifically wrote about this in "Nature" (Wayne) Even though Whitman was not a Transcendentalist, he still shared this importannt aspect of their philosophy with them. He also uses nature symbolically, like most poets and writers, though I must admit that I think whitman does a much better job than other writers.
Also shared with writers like Emerson and Thoreau is the way Whitman used his own meter in his poetry. Free verse poetry was not taken seriously before Whitman, but he used it anyway because it was how he thought he was best able to express his self. In Emerson's "Self Reliance" he wrote that a good person is one who does what they think is best despite how other people view it. Whitman followed this advice and became the first serious and well known poet to use free verse in his poetry. Before Whitman, poems had a rhyme scheme, but Whitman did not want to use one, and today a rhyme scheme is a sort of optional thing. He was a great pioneer in poetry, and changed the way most people view it because it was what he thought was best.
Emerson, Ralph. "Self-Reliance." Ralph Waldo Emerson Texts. Web. 15 Feb.
Wayne, Tiffany K. "Nature." Critical Companion to Ralph Waldo
Emerson:ALiterary Reference to His Life and Work, Critical Companion. New
York: ChelseaHouse Publishing, 2010. Bloom's Literary Reference Online.
Facts On File, Inc.Web. 15 Feb. 2012. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.aspItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin=CCRWE0289&SingleRecord=True.
Whitman, Walt. "192. When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard BloomÂd. Whitman, Walt. 1900. Leaves of Grass. Web. 11 Mar. 2012.