IT is the 200th anniversary year of the great American poet Walt Whitman - a man who had a very special bond with Bolton. The Bolton News has been exploring his connections with the town and in today’s feature we look at the commemorative plaques that have been installed in his honour.

Plaque number one can be seen adorning Bolton Library and Museum, to the left of the steps.

Quoted around the border of the plaque is the line: “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”

It comes from Whitman’s poem Song of Myself which is included in his epic poetry collection, Leaves of Grass.

This particular line expresses Whitman’s world view that immense value can be found in the smallest, most seemingly insignificant of things. He explains how even the simplest blade of grass is an extremely complex and important thing, and therefore has great value.

Whitman uses the image of a blade of grass to symbolise the significance of the individual and to celebrate the natural world, which is another one of his tropes.

Like all the plaques, the location of this one reflects a particular link with Whitman. In this case it is because the library hold the largest Walt Whitman collection outside the USA.

The second plaque can be found on the side of Barker Welding Supplies on Eagle Street, The Haulgh. This was the site of the home of architectural draughtsman James William Wallace.

It was dubbed the Eagle Street College on acount of the fact that this was where the ‘Whitmanites’ first met in the 1880s. They were a group of clerks, clergymen, lower middle-class friends and working-class intellectuals who were drawn together by their appreciation of Whitman.

The group subsequently became known as the Bolton Whitman Fellowship and developed a close personal relationship with Whitman through correspondence and visits to him at his home in America.

To remind people of this, the plaque features a quote by one of Whitman’s American friends: “That must be a very nice little circle of friends you have at Bolton.”

Plaque number 3 is located on the wall of construction design consultants Bradshaw Gass and Hope on Silverwell Street.

It was here where Wallace worked, and the quote on this plaque is particularly appropriate. “All architecture is what you do with it when you look upon it” comes from the poem A Song For Occupations. It is Whitman’s plea for universal equality, irrespective of one’s position in life.

Bank Street Unitarian Chapel is where the next plaque is positioned. This was one of the venues used for meetings of The Whitmanites and allowed them more space than the somewhat cramped Eagle Street home of Wallace.

“The institution of the dear love of comrades” quote comes from the poem I Hear it Was Charged Against Me. Essentially, Whitman is championing the idea that the love for comrades is not only more real, but more essential than anything else. Poems like these are used by scholars to support the theory that Whitman was homosexual.

The fifth plaque can be found on a a wall at Walker Fold farmhouse, off Walker Fold Road. This is on the route used by today’s Whitman enthusiasts for their annual walk on the poet’s birthday. Beginning at Barrow Bridge, they walk up 63 steps.

Along the way, they read out Whitman’s poetry, adhering to his belief that poetry should be read in the open air. They pass round the loving cup and toast Whitman, just as the original Whitmanites did. However, these days a replica of the cup is used because the original is too fragile and safely housed in Bolton Museum.

The quote used on this plaque – “Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road” - comes from the poem Song of the Open Road, which communicates Whitman’s love of the great outdoors and exercise.

The next plaque is at Babylon Lane, Adlington, on another house where James Wallace once lived.

It’s quote, “Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,” is again from Song of the Open Road. The full stanza reads:- Now I re-examine philosophies and religions, They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing currents.

Once again, Whitman shows he is an advocate of nature and free thinking.

The final plaque can be found on Rivington Unitarian Chapel. It was in the grounds of the chapel house where the Whitmanites celebrated the poet’s life and works.

The plaque features the line: “I give you my sprig of lilac,” which comes from the poem When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.

Engravings of lilacs adorn all the plaques on the route. They were a favourite of Whitman’s as they are associated with ever-returning spring as a symbol of resurrection, and their heart-shaped leaves symbolize love.