Leaves of Grass: The First (1855) Edition

Overview


“I am large, I contain multitudes”
 
When Walt Whitman self-published his Leaves of Grass in July 1855, he altered the course of literary history. One of the greatest masterpieces of American literature, it redefined the rules of poetry while describing the soul of the American character.
Throughout his great career, Whitman continuously revised, expanded, and republished Leaves of Grass, but many ...
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Overview


“I am large, I contain multitudes”
 
When Walt Whitman self-published his Leaves of Grass in July 1855, he altered the course of literary history. One of the greatest masterpieces of American literature, it redefined the rules of poetry while describing the soul of the American character.
Throughout his great career, Whitman continuously revised, expanded, and republished Leaves of Grass, but many critics believe that the book that matters most is the 1855 original. Penguin Classics proudly presents that text in its original and complete form, with an introductory essay by the writer and poet Malcolm Cowley.

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher

“Whitman, the great poet, has meant so much to me. Whitman the one man breaking a way ahead. Whitman the one pioneer . . . Ahead of Whitman, nothing. Ahead of all poets, pioneering into the wilderness of unopened life, Whitman. Beyond him, none.” —D. H. Lawrence
Malcolm Cowley
Whitman's best poems have that permanent quality of being freshly painted, of not being dulled by the varnish of the years. Reading them a century after their publication, one feels the same shock and wonder and delight that Emerson felt when opening his presentation copy of the first edition. They carry us into a new world that Whitman discovered as if this very morning... After reading all of Leaves of Grass as Whitman wished it to be preserved and after being won over by what I think is the best of it... I am willing to join the consensus that regards him as our most rewarding poet.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140421996
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/28/1961
  • Series: Penguin Poets Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 130,510
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 7.81 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was born on Long Island and educated in Brooklyn, New York. He served as a printer's devil, journeyman compositor, itinerant schoolteacher, editor, and unofficial nurse to Northern and Southern soldiers.

Malcolm Cowley (1898–1989) a leadiing literary figure of his time, wrote numerous books of literary criticism, essays, and poetry.

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Read an Excerpt

INSCRIPTIONS



One's-Self I Sing

One's-Self I sing, a simple separate person,

Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.



Of physiology from top to toe I sing,

Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse, I say the Form complete is worthier far,

The Female equally with the Male I sing.



Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,

Cheerful, for freest action form'd under the laws divine,

The Modern Man I sing.



As I Ponder'd in Silence



As I ponder'd in silence,

Returning upon my poems, considering, lingering long,

A Phantom arose before me with distrustful aspect,

Terrible in beauty, age, and power,

The genius of poets of old lands,

As to me directing like flame its eyes,

With finger pointing to many immortal songs,

And menacing voice, What singest thou? it said,

Know'st thou not there is but one theme for ever-enduring bards?

And that is the theme of War, the fortune of battles,

The making of perfect soldiers.



Be it so, then I answer'd,

I too haughty Shade also sing war, and a longer and greater one than any,

Waged in my book with varying fortune, with flight, advance and retreat, victory deferr'd and wavering,

(Yet methinks certain, or as good as certain, at the last,) the field the world,

For life and death, for the Body and for the eternal Soul,

Lo, I too am come, chanting the chant of battles,

I above all promote brave soldiers.



In Cabin'd Ships at Sea



In cabin'd ships at sea,

Theboundless blue on every side expanding,

With whistling winds and music of the waves, the large imperious waves,

Or some lone bark buoy'd on the dense marine,

Where joyous full of faith, spreading white sails,

She cleaves the ether mid the sparkle and the foam of day, or under many a star at night,

By sailors young and old haply will I, a reminiscence of the land, be read,

In full rapport at last.



Here are our thoughts, voyagers' thoughts,

Here not the land, firm land, alone appears, may then by them be said,

The sky o'erarches here, we feel the undulating deck beneath our feet,

We feel the long pulsation, ebb and flow of endless motion,

The tones of unseen mystery, the vague and vast suggestions of the briny world, the liquid-flowing syllables,

The perfume, the faint creaking of the cordage, the melancholy rhythm,

The boundless vista and the horizon far and dim are all here,

And this is ocean's poem.



Then falter not O book, fulfil your destiny,

You not a reminiscence of the land alone,

You too as a lone bark cleaving the ether, purpos'd I know not whither, yet ever full of faith,

Consort to every ship that sails, sail you!

Bear forth to them folded my love, (dear mariners, for you I fold it here in every leaf;)

Speed on my book! spread your white sails my little bark athwart the imperious waves,

Chant on, sail on, bear o'er the boundless blue from me to every sea,

This song for mariners and all their ships.



To Foreign Lands



I heard that you ask'd for something to prove this puzzle the New World,

And to define America, her athletic Democracy,

Therefore I send you my poems that you behold in them what you wanted.



To a Historian



You who celebrate bygones,

Who have explored the outward, the surfaces of the races, the life that has exhibited itself,

Who have treated of man as the creature of politics, aggregates, rulers and priests,

I, habitan of the Alleghanies, treating of him as he is in himself in his own rights,

Pressing the pulse of the life that has seldom exhibited itself, (the great pride of man in himself,)

Chanter of Personality, outlining what is yet to be,

I project the history of the future.



To Thee Old Cause



To thee old cause!

Thou peerless, passionate, good cause,

Thou stern, remorseless, sweet idea,

Deathless throughout the ages, races, lands,

After a strange sad war, great war for thee,

(I think all war through time was really fought, and ever will be really fought, for thee,)

These chants for thee, the eternal march of thee.



(A war O soldiers not for itself alone,

Far, far more stood silently waiting behind, now to advance in this book.)



Thou orb of many orbs!

Thou seething principle! thou well-kept, latent germ! thou centre!

Around the idea of thee the war revolving,

With all its angry and vehement play of causes,

(With vast results to come for thrice a thousand years,)

These recitatives for thee,--my book and the war are one,

Merged in its spirit I and mine, as the contest hinged on thee,

As a wheel on its axis turns, this book unwitting to itself,

Around the idea of thee.



Eidolons



I met a seer,

Passing the hues and objects of the world,

The fields of art and learning, pleasure, sense,

To glean eidolons.



Put in thy chants said he,

No more the puzzling hour nor day, nor segments, parts, put in,

Put first before the rest as light for all and entrance-song of all,

That of eidolons.



Ever the dim beginning,

Ever the growth, the rounding of the circle,

Ever the summit and the merge at last, (to surely start again,)

Eidolons! eidolons!



Ever the mutable,

Ever materials, changing, crumbling, re-cohering,

Ever the ateliers, the factories divine,

Issuing eidolons.



Lo, I or you,

Or woman, man, or state, known or unknown,

We seeming solid wealth, strength, beauty build,

But really build eidolons.



The ostent evanescent,

The substance of an artist's mood or savan's studies long,

Or warrior's, martyr's, hero's toils,

To fashion his eidolon.



Of every human life,

(The units gather'd, posted, not a thought, emotion, deed, left out,)

The whole or large or small summ'd, added up,

In its eidolon.



The old, old urge,

Based on the ancient pinnacles, lo, newer, higher pinnacles,

From science and the modern still impell'd,

The old, old urge, eidolons.



The present now and here,

America's busy, teeming, intricate whirl,

Of aggregate and segregate for only thence releasing,

To-day's eidolons.



These with the past,

Of vanish'd lands, of all the reigns of kings across the sea,

Old conquerors, old campaigns, old sailors' voyages,

Joining eidolons.



Densities, growth, facades,

Strata of mountains, soils, rocks, giant trees,

Far-born, far-dying, living long, to leave,

Eidolons everlasting.



Exalte, rapt, ecstatic,

The visible but their womb of birth,

Of orbic tendencies to shape and shape and shape,

The mighty earth-eidolon.



All space, all time,

(The stars, the terrible perturbations of the suns,

Swelling, collapsing, ending, serving their longer, shorter use,)

Fill'd with eidolons only.



The noiseless myriads,

The infinite oceans where the rivers empty,

The separate countless free identities, like eyesight,

The true realities, eidolons.



Not this the world,

Nor these the universes, they the universes,

Purport and end, ever the permanent life of life,

Eidolons, eidolons.

Beyond thy lectures learn'd professor,

Beyond thy telescope or spectroscope observer keen, beyond all mathematics,

Beyond the doctor's surgery, anatomy, beyond the chemist with his chemistry,

The entities of entities, eidolons.



Unfix'd yet fix'd,

Ever shall be, ever have been and are,

Sweeping the present to the infinite future,

Eidolons, eidolons, eidolons.



The prophet and the bard,

Shall yet maintain themselves, in higher stages yet,

Shall mediate to the Modern, to Democracy, interpret yet to them,

God and eidolons.



And thee my soul,

Joys, ceaseless exercises, exaltations,

Thy yearning amply fed at last, prepared to meet,

Thy mates, eidolons.



Thy body permanent,

The body lurking there within thy body,

The only purport of the form thou art, the real I myself,

An image, an eidolon.



Thy very songs not in thy songs,

No special strains to sing, none for itself,

But from the whole resulting, rising at last and floating,

A round full-orb'd eidolon.



For Him I Sing



For him I sing,

I raise the present on the past,

(As some perennial tree out of its roots, the present on the past,)

With time and space I him dilate and fuse the immortal laws,

To make himself by them the law unto himself.



When I Read the Book



When I read the book, the biography famous,

And is this then (said I) what the author calls a man's life?

And so will some one when I am dead and gone write my life?

(As if any man really knew aught of my life,

Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing of my real life,

Only a few hints, a few diffused faint clews and indirections

I seek for my own use to trace out here.)



Beginning My Studies



Beginning my studies the first step pleas'd me so much,

The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion,

The least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love,

The first step I say awed me and pleas'd me so much,

I have hardly gone and hardly wish'd to go any farther,

But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.



Beginners



How they are provided for upon the earth, (appearing at intervals,)

How dear and dreadful they are to the earth,

How they inure to themselves as much as to any--what a paradox appears their age,

How people respond to them, yet know them not,

How there is something relentless in their fate all times,

How all times mischoose the objects of their adulation and reward,

And how the same inexorable price must still be paid for the same great purchase.



To The States



To the States or any one of them, or any city of the States, Resist much, obey little,

Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,

Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth, ever afterward resumes its liberty.



On Journeys through the States



On journeys through the States we start,

(Ay through the world, urged by these songs,

Sailing henceforth to every land, to every sea,)

We willing learners of all, teachers of all, and lovers of all.



We have watch'd the seasons dispensing themselves and passing on,

And have said, Why should not a man or woman do as much as the seasons, and effuse as much?

We dwell a while in every city and town,

We pass through Kanada, the North-east, the vast valley of the Mississippi, and the Southern States,

We confer on equal terms with each of the States,

We make trial of ourselves and invite men and women to

hear,

We say to ourselves, Remember, fear not, be candid, promulge the body and the soul,

Dwell a while and pass on, be copious, temperate, chaste, magnetic,

And what you effuse may then return as the seasons return,

And may be just as much as the seasons.



To a Certain Cantatrice



Here, take this gift,

I was reserving it for some hero, speaker, or general,

One who should serve the good old cause, the great idea, the progress and freedom of the race,

Some brave confronter of despots, some daring rebel;

But I see that what I was reserving belongs to you just as much as to any.



Me Imperturbe



Me imperturbe, standing at ease in Nature,

Master of all or mistress of all, aplomb in the midst of irrational things,

Imbued as they, passive, receptive, silent as they,

Finding my occupation, poverty, notoriety, foibles, crimes, less important than I thought,

Me toward the Mexican sea, or in the Mannahatta or the Tennessee, or far north or inland,

A river man, or a man of the woods or of any farm-life of these States or of the coast, or the lakes or Kanada,

Me wherever my life is lived, O to be self-balanced for contingencies,

To confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do.



Savantism



Thither as I look I see each result and glory retracing itself and nestling close, always obligated,

Thither hours, months, years--thither trades, compacts, establishments, even the most minute,

Thither every-day life, speech, utensils, politics, persons, estates;

Thither we also, I with my leaves and songs, trustful, admirant,

As a father to his father going takes his children along with him.



The Ship Starting



Lo, the unbounded sea,

On its breast a ship starting, spreading all sails, carrying even her moonsails,

The pennant is flying aloft as she speeds she speeds so stately--

below emulous waves press forward,

They surround the ship with shining curving motions and foam.



I Hear America Singing



I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,

The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

The day what belongs to the day--at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,

Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.



What Place Is Besieged?



What place is besieged, and vainly tries to raise the siege?

Lo, I send to that place a commander, swift, brave, immortal,

And with him horse and foot, and parks of artillery,

And artillery-men, the deadliest that ever fired gun.



Still Though the One I Sing



Still though the one I sing,

(One, yet of contradictions made,) I dedicate to Nationality,

I leave in him revolt, (O latent right of insurrection! O quenchless, indispensable fire!)



Shut Not Your Doors



Shut not your doors to me proud libraries,

For that which was lacking on all your well-fill'd shelves, yet needed most, I bring,

Forth from the war emerging, a book I have made,

The words of my book nothing, the drift of it every thing,

A book separate, not link'd with the rest nor felt by the intellect,

But you ye untold latencies will thrill to every page.



Poets to Come



Poets to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!

Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,

But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than before known,

Arouse! for you must justify me.



I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,

I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.

I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a casual look upon you and then averts his face,

Leaving it to you to prove and define it,

Expecting the main things from you.



To You



Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?

Copyright© 1983 by Walt Whitman
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Table of Contents

Introduction and Celebration vii
Suggestions for Further Reading xxxix
Facsimile Frontispiece 2
Facsimile Title Page 3
Whitman's Preface 5
Song of Myself 28
A Song for Occupations 97
To Think of Time 109
The Sleepers 117
I Sing the Body Electric 129
Faces 137
Song of the Answerer 142
Europe: The 72d and 73d Years of These States 146
A Boston Ballad 148
There Was a Child Went Forth 151
Who Learns My Lesson Complete? 154
Great Are the Myths 156
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Reading Group Guide

1. Critic and poet Lewis Turco maintains that, contrary to the otherwise nearly universally accepted view, Whitman is not America's most innovative and important poet. He did nothing new, Turco argues, and "the level of his competence was not very high-he retained his poor ear throughout his life; his poems are too long, too disorganized, too pompous, too repetitious, too boring." Do you agree or disagree with this assessment?

2. Although Leaves of Grass might appear to be an amorphous, unstructured mass (as Turco suggests above), Whitman spent nearly forty years carefully revising it, reordering the poems, deleting poems or sections of poems, and adding new poems and cycles. He insisted that there was an overall unity and structure to the book (and stated that the ninth and final edition, the "Death-bed" edition published in 1892, was the last word on it). Do you perceive an overall unity in the book? Is there a discernible structure to it?

3. Walt Whitman is often called the poet of democracy and of America; one of the best-known and most often quoted poems in Leaves of Grass is "For You O Democracy" in "Calamus." How does Leaves of Grass answer the question of what democracy is and what it means to be an American?

4. In The Good Gray Poet, one of the first biographies of Whitman, William Douglas O'Connor explained in words that Whitman himself acknowledged that one of the primary purposes of Leaves of Grass was to save
sexuality "from the keeping of blackguards and debauchees, to which it has been abandoned"-by which he meant rescue it from libertines, whose dissolute behavior made sex disrespectable tomiddle-class Victorian sensibilities. One American reviewer of the 1855 edition described Whitman as having "a degrading, beastly sensuality, that is fast rotting the core of all the social virtues" and a British reviewer asked, "Is it possible that the most prudish nation on earth will adopt a poet whose indecencies stink in the nostrils?" How is sexuality represented in Leaves of Grass?

5. There are many recurrent themes, symbols, images, and motifs in Leaves of Grass as a whole, as well as in particular poems and cycles of poems. Consider, for example, the following: a) The use of the star, the lilac, and the bird in "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" (What do they symbolize and how do they relate to each other? How do they contribute to the structure of what many critics consider to be one of the finest poems ever written in the English language?); b) The recurrence of the word "mother" or "mothers" (more than one hundred times) in the book; and c) the repeated invocation of odor, fragrance, and perfume throughout the book.

6. The Civil War was a defining event in Walt Whitman's life, and the poems in "Drum-Taps" are a testimony to the impact the time he spent as a nurse to both Northern and Southern soldiers in the army hospitals of Washington, D. C. had on him. What view of the war is expressed by the narrative persona, and does the perspective of the persona change over the course of the cycle of poems?

7. Discuss the following stylistic aspects of Leaves of Grass: a) lists and catalogues; b) the extensive use of parentheses; c) parallelism (the development of rhythm via a repetition of ideas and sentences rather than through accents and syllables); d) the repetition of sounds and words; and e) punctuation.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    Walt Whitman

    Walt whitman is one of my favorit poet and Leaves Of Grass is the best book ever its says alot about life and about Whitman

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    This is an Awesome Collection

    This is an awesome collection to have in one's own library.

    Everyone should own Whitman works, along with Ohio Blue Tips by Jeanne E. Clark, The Photos In The Closet by Daniel E. Lopez, and works by Alison Townsend.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2005

    Great American Poetry

    This book is a wonderful addition to any person's library. It contains the first 12 poems of the original 1855 edition, which were by far the best. It is a value at this price, and should be appreciated by anyone who is interested in Walt Whitman.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted January 24, 2009

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