Thomas R. Stegelmann/Flickr
For more than 150 years and counting, The Atlantic has published poetry in virtually every issue. It's safe to assume our founding braintrust wouldn't have had it any other way. Among their number were several poets of no uncertain stature, and with no bit part in what we now like to call the national conversation. They aimed to have their say on the pressing matters of the day, but they were equally bent on channeling the literary spirit of the age. They wanted their good gray columns of type to resound with reasoned discourse and enlightened thinking, but they also wanted them to sing.
That's not to say poetry was at the forefront of The Atlantic's editorial mindset way back when—only that it was anything but an afterthought. Volume One, Number One (November 1857) contained a constellation of poems by four New England luminaries with three resonant names apiece: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and John Greenleaf Whittier. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the renowned physician and man of parts who gave the magazine its name, contributed his able occasional verse to its pages for the next quarter-century. Lowell served as The Atlantic's first editor, and it was under his watch in 1860 that the magazine first published an up-and-coming bard by the name of Walt Whitman.