Leaves of Grass: First and "Death-Bed" Editions (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Overview

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
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Overview

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

When Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855 as a slim tract of twelve untitled poems, Walt Whitman was still an unknown. But his self-published volume soon became a landmark of poetry, introducing the world to a new and uniquely American form. The "father of free verse," Whitman drew upon the cadence of simple, even idiomatic speech to "sing" such themes as democracy, sexuality, and frank autobiography.

Throughout his prolific writing career, Whitman continually revised his work and expanded Leaves of Grass, which went through nine, substantively different editions, culminating in the final, authoritative "Death-bed Edition." Now the original 1855 version and the "Death-bed Edition" of 1892 have been brought together in a single volume, allowing the reader to experience the total scope of Whitman's genius, which produced love lyrics, visionary musings, glimpses of nightmare and ecstasy, celebrations of the human body and spirit, and poems of loneliness, loss, and mourning.

Alive with the mythical strength and vitality that epitomized the American experience in the nineteenth century, Leaves of Grass continues to inspire, uplift, and unite those who read it.

Karen Karbiener received a Ph.D. from Columbia University and currently teaches at New York University. She also wrote the introduction and notes for the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Frankenstein.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593080839
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 1/1/2005
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 960
  • Sales rank: 71,520
  • Product dimensions: 7.96 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 2.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Karbiener received a Ph.D. from Columbia University and currently teaches at New York University. She also wrote the introduction and notes for the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Frankenstein.

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Read an Excerpt

From Karen Karbiener’s Introduction to Leaves of Grass: First and "Death-Bed" Editions

"Whitman, the one pioneer. And only Whitman," wrote D. H. Lawrence in 1923. "No English pioneers, no French. No European pioneer-poets. In Europe the would-be pioneers are mere innovators. The same in America. Ahead of Whitman, nothing" (Woodress, ed., Critical Essays on Walt Whitman, p. 211). The sentiments were echoed by the likes of F. O. Matthiessen, William Carlos Williams, and Allen Ginsberg. Langston Hughes named Whitman the "greatest of American poets"; Henry Miller described him as "the bard of the future" (quoted in Perlman et al., eds., Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song, pp. 185, 205). Even his more cynical readers recognized Whitman’s position of near-mythical status and supreme influence in American letters. "His crudity is an exceeding great stench but it is America," Ezra Pound admitted in a 1909 article; he continued: "To be frank, Whitman is to my fatherland what Dante is to Italy" (Perlman, pp. 112–113). "We continue to live in a Whitmanesque age," said Pablo Neruda in a speech to PEN in 1972. "Walt Whitman was the protagonist of a truly geographical personality: The first man in history to speak with a truly continental American voice, to bear a truly American name" (Perlman, p. 232). Alicia Ostriker, in a 1992 essay, claimed that "if women poets in America have written more boldly and experimentally in the last thirty years than our British equivalents, we have Whitman to thank" (Perlman, p. 463).

How did a former typesetter and penny-daily editor come to write the poems that would define and shape American literature and culture?

Whitman’s metamorphosis in the decade before the first publication of Leaves of Grass in 1855 remains an intriguing mystery. Biographers concede that details about Whitman’s life and literary activities from the late 1840s to the early 1850s are extremely hard to come by. "Little is known of Whitman’s activities in these years," writes Joann Krieg in the 1851–1854 section of her Whitman Chronology (most other years have month-to-month commentaries). Whitman was fired from his job at the New Orleans Daily Cresent in the summer of 1848, then resigned from his editorship of the Brooklyn Freeman in 1849. Though he continued to write for several newspapers during the next five years, his work as a freelancer was irregular and his whereabouts difficult to follow. He seems also to have tried his hand at several other jobs, including house building and selling stationery. One wonders if Walt’s break from the daily work routine had something to do with his poetic awakening. Keeping to a regulated schedule in the newspaper offices had been a struggle for him, and he had been fired several times for laziness or "sloth." Charting his own days and ways—in particular, working as a self-employed carpenter, as had his idiosyncratic father—may well have enabled him to think "outside the box" and toward the organic, freeform qualities of Leaves.

Purposefully dropping out of workaday life and common sight suggests that Whitman may have intended to obscure the details of his pre-Leaves years, and there is further evidence to support the idea that Whitman consciously created a "myth of origins." In his biography of Whitman, Justin Kaplan quotes the poet on the mysterious "perturbations" of Leaves of Grass: It had been written under "great pressure, pressure from within," and he had "felt that he must do it" (p. 185). To obscure the roots of Leaves and build the case for his original thinking, Whitman destroyed significant amounts of manuscripts and letters upon at least two occasions; as Grier notes in his introduction to Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, "one is continually struck by [the] omissions and reticences" of the remaining material (vol. 1, p. 8). Indeed, some of the notes surviving his "clean-ups" were reminders to himself to "not name any names"—and thus to remain silent concerning any possible readings or influences. "Make no quotations, and no reference to any other writers.—Lumber the writing with nothing," Whitman wrote to himself in the late 1840s. It was a command he would repeat to himself several times in the years preceding the publication of Leaves.

Whitman’s friends and critics also did their share to create a legend of the writer and his explosive first book. In the first biographical study of Whitman, John Burroughs claimed that certain individuals throughout history "mark and make new eras, plant the standard again ahead, and in one man personify vast races or sweeping revolutions. I consider Walt Whitman such an individual" (Burroughs, "Preface" to Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person). Others insisted that Leaves of Grass was the product of the "cosmic consciousness" Whitman had acquired around 1850 (Bucke, Walt Whitman, p. 178) or a spiritual "illumination" of the highest order (Binns, A Life of Walt Whitman, p. 69–70).

What sort of experience could inspire such a personal revelation? For a man just awakening to the inhumanity of slavery and the hidden agendas of the Free Soil stance, witnessing a slave auction might do it. This was but one of the life-altering events that occurred during Whitman’s three-month sojourn in New Orleans in 1848. Another, substantiated by his poetry rather than Whitman’s own word, was an alleged homosexual affair. Several poems in the sexually charged "Calamus" and "Children of Adam" clusters of 1860 are suggestive of an intense and liberating romance in New Orleans. The manuscript for "Once I Passed Through a Populous City" has the lines "man who wandered with me, there, for love of me, / Day by day, and night by night, we were together." "Man" was changed to "woman" in the final draft of the poem; see Whitman’s Manuscripts: Leaves of Grass (1860), edited by Fredson Bowers, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955, p. 64. In "I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing," the poet describes breaking off a twig of a particularly stately and solitary tree: "Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love." The emotional release of "coming out" might well explain the spectacular openness and provocative energy of Leaves of Grass; additionally, Whitman’s identification of his "outsider status" could have helped spark his empathy for women, Native Americans, and other marginalized groups that are celebrated in the 1855 poems.

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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Overshadowed by Whitman's Eccentric Persona

    Walt Whitman is one of those people whose public image or persona has quite overshadowed his work, and for good reason--his work does not fully live up to his reputation as America's national poet. Granted, a minority of Whitman's work is brilliant in every respect (Drum-Taps and In Memory of President Lincoln come to mind), and his remarkably original style has changed the nature of free verse poetry forever, but much of his material is, well, simply average. On occasion he verges on rambling, stuck somewhere between Emerson/Thoreau and Tolstoy, trying to formulate a coherent philosophy but all the while attempting to believe in everything--thus believing in nothing. At times, his laid-back "acceptance for all" theory borders on contradictory. This is disappointing in light of his best work, which demonstrates his firm grasp of Life and Humanity. If you like Whitman's cadence verse style, as I do, I recommend Allen Ginsberg and Carl Sandburg--the later of whom, in my opinion, blows Whitman out of the water.

    5 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Amazing

    This had basically all of his works. He is a great writer.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • 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.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Phenomenal!

    Karen Karbiener was my professor at Columbia and taught the American Literature class, Walt Whitman. Karen was by far the best professor I had and will never forget this class and this book! The book is profoundly educational and tremendously stimulating!

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 28, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass

    Walt Whitman speaks of things that would not normally be placed in poems. He is open about the world around him and himself. In a sense, he is a transcendentalist who does not fear what the public thinks about him. His poems are witty, strange, and sometimes provoking.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Leaves of Grass: The Pinnacle of Western Metaphysical Poetry

    From the opening lines and throughout, Whitman expresses with great clarity the experience of inner peace that arises when the human being is completely connected to the inner and outer worlds. This text includes both versions of the famous Leaves of Grass, as well as, a multitude of other poems. It is a perfect format for long intense study or the need to read a short inspirational piece of poetry.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Whitman is the father of American Poetry

    This is the best book ever, period. Wholesome, pure, warming, honest, true.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2007

    Leaves of Grass are Shreds of Truth in a World Unaccustomed to Veracity

    Maybe it is just that I am a hopeless American history book and that a book of poems about the Civil War is more than my feeble mind can resist, but this collection of Walt Whitman's poetry is simply, for lack of a better word, brilliant. In any given poem in the volume, there is some truth, and I do not think we realize how relevant these poems are to life today. The themes in Whitman's poetry are just as alive now as they were during his time. Really, there is no reason why they should not be. Centuries may come and go with the seasons, but America is really the same. Time cannot (or is it has not?) tarnished yet that for which this country exists, and because of that, everything Whitman said in terms of his America applies to ours as well. My favorite poems include 'O Captain! My Captain!', 'Long, too Long, America', and 'To Thee, Old Cause.'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2004

    Perfect Synthesis

    Karbiener brings us a perfect match - Whitman's best poetry in one clear volume. As a Whitman expert, she has compiled what readers need and long for: Whitman's essence. The raw, ascerbic embrace of Whitman's inauguration into the world of literature as seen in 1855 will certainly wake anyone from a holiday slumber.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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