One of Walt Whitman's earliest memories was when General Lafayette, a French hero in the American Revolution, picked him up out of a crowd and hoisted him onto his shoulder and paraded him around Brooklyn. This memory signifies the times in which Whitman was born, May 31, 1819; when America had just regained stability as a nation and had nowhere to go but up. These times were most important to Whitman's way of thinking, and had much influence on his both democratic and urban poetry. Times were tough financially for his family, but Walt often liked to distance himself from them and ride the ferries from East River to New York City. During these commutes, Whitman became mystified by these transitions, and the experiences are recounted in a poem he wrote nearly 30 years later entitled "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry". In this poem the act of crossing suggested a passage from life to death and back to life, and the passage from poet to reader via the medium (transportation) of poetry. Another of Whitman's favorite childhood experiences was visiting his grandparents on Long Island. Whitman didn't enjoy seeing his relatives so much as he did observing the rural countryside and, more influentially, the shore side of the island. It is here where Whitman would contemplate the mystery of the adjunction of two states of matter: liquid and solid. His poem "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" is reminiscent of his boyhood on the Long Island shore side, where his desire to be a poet flourished.
Whitman never spent much time with his public school friends and never appreciated the methods or curriculum the teachers used. Most of his significant educational experiences were self-taught from trips to museums, libraries, and lecture halls. Whitman did everything he could to enrich his mind with the literary arts while he was still developing mentally. He called it quits on formal education at the age of eleven, which was more schooling than either of his parents had received.