Reading Whitman Religiously

The poet was viewed as a prophet in his own times

In December 1890, the elderly Walt Whitman received in the mail an unusual Christmas greeting from his admirer William Sloane Kennedy, a Harvard Divinity School dropout turned journalist. "Do you suppose a thousand years from now people will be celebrating the birth of Walt Whitman as they are now the birth of Christ?" Kennedy asked cheekily. "If they don't," he added, "the more fools they."

Kennedy's question was brazen, but it