Abraham Lincoln read it with approval, but Emily Dickinson described its bold language and themes as 'disgraceful.' And Ralph Waldo Emerson found Leaves of Grass 'the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed,' calling it a 'combination of the Bhagavad Gita and the New York Herald.' Published at the author's own expense on July 4, 1855, Leaves of Grass initially consisted of a preface, twelve untitled poems in free verse (including the work later titled 'Song of Myself' which Malcolm Cowley called 'one of the great poems of modern times'), and a now-famous portrait of a devil-may-care Walt Whitman in a workman's shirt. Over the next four decades,
Whitman continually expanded and revised the book as he took on the role of a workingman's bard who championed American nationalism, political democracy, contemporary progress, and unashamed sex. This volume, which contains 383 poems, is the final 'Deathbed Edition' published in 1892.
About the Author
The next five years (1850-1855), while outwardly undramatic, proved to be the most important period--intellectually and spiritually--in the life of Walt Whitman the poet. During this time he read avidly and kept a series of notebooks. Two novels by Georges Sand helped fix the direction of Whitman's thinking. One was The Countess of Rudolstadt, which featured a wandering bard and prophet who expounded the new religion of Humanity. The other was The Journeyman Joiner, the story of a proletarian philosopher who works as a carpenter with his father but also devotes time to reading, giving advice on art, and freely sharing the affection of friends. But of course it was Ralph Waldo Emerson's summons (in 'The Poet') for a great American muse to step forward and celebrate the emerging nation that was pivotal to Whitman's future. On July 4, 1855, the first edition of Leaves of Grass, the volume of poems that for the next four decades would become his life's work, was placed on sale. Although some critics treated the volume as a joke and others were outraged by its unprecedented mixture of mysticism and earthiness, the book attracted the attention of some of the finest literary intelligences. 'I greet you at the beginning of a great career,' Emerson wrote to Whitman. 'I find incomparable things said incomparably well.'
The Civil War found Whitman working as an unofficial nurse to Northern and Southern soldiers in the army hospitals of Washington, D.C. His war poems appeared in Drum-Taps (1865) and were later incorporated into Leaves of Grass--as was 'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom,' his elegy to the recently assassinated President Lincoln. After the war he became a clerk in the Indian Bureau of the Department of the Interior, from which he was shortly dismissed on the grounds that Leaves of Grass was an immoral book. (Whitman was soon reinstated in another government clerkship with the Department of Justice.) Despite such notoriety, his poetry slowly achieved a wide readership in America and in England, where he was praised by Swinburne and Tennyson. (D. H. Lawrence later referred to Whitman as the 'greatest modern poet,' and 'the greatest of Americans.'
Whitman suffered a stroke in 1873 and was forced to retire to Camden, New Jersey, where he would spend the last twenty years of his life. There he continued to write poetry, and in 1881 the seventh edition of Leaves of Grass was published to generally favorable reviews. However, the book was soon banned in Boston on the grounds that it was 'obscene literature.' Whitman was in a precarious financial way in his remaining years, and such writers as Mark Twain, Henry James, and Robert Louis Stevenson contributed to his support. Rich admirers kept him supplied with oysters and champagne (he was fond of both). Whitman even received a visitation from Oscar Wilde, who later reported that 'the good gray poet' made no effort to conceal his homosexuality from him. ('The kiss of Walt Whitman,' Wilde said, 'is still on my lips')
In January 1892 the final 'Death-bed Edition' of Leaves of Grass appeared on sale, and Whitman's life's work was complete. He died two months later on the evening of March 26, 1892, and was buried four days afterward at Harleigh Cemetery in Camden. 'Most of the great poets are impersonal,' Whitman once wrote of Leaves of Grass. 'I am personal. . . . In my poems, all revolves around, concentrates in, radiates from myself. I have but one central figure, the general human personality typified in myself. But my book compels, absolutely necessitates, every reader to transpose himself or herself into the central position, and become the living fountain, actor, experiencer himself or herself, of every page, every aspiration, every line.'
Read an Excerpt
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' 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&rsquod 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,
The boundless 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'arches 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.
Table of Contents
|Introduction and Celebration||vii|
|Suggestions for Further Reading||xxxix|
|Facsimile Title Page||3|
|Song of Myself||28|
|A Song for Occupations||97|
|To Think of Time||109|
|I Sing the Body Electric||129|
|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|
What People are Saying About This
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.
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 to middle-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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is not formatted at all. Each poem is one long paragraph, and there are not even extra returns after each poem; they all run together. It may not cost much, but it's still a waste of money.
Walt started it all and still continues to show his relevance with every passing decade. A life time poet who will always have my heart!
while the formatting is awful it doesn't necessarily detract from the outstanding poetry that Walt W. has left us to ponder and love!
I've always compared poetry to music lyrics. And like many albums, often there are just one or two songs which are really, really good. This book fits that model for me. It has a few very memorable poems, but several which, while not bad, require more work to derive the meaning. Still, for anyone interested beautiful language artfully arranged to create mental landscapes, this book is for you.
Confusing at first....but if you understand the life of vocabulary or hav a dictionary in handy yiure good to go....overall this book is five star worthy.
A friend of mine said she just didn't get poetry. It was Walt that invigorated her to dig deeper. Now she is a poetry lover.
I got this in hope that it wasn't as poorly formatted as other free poetry. I was wrong. If anything it was worse. Lines ran together, there was random punctuation, and none of the poems were separated. I woul not recommend this at all. I found it to be a waste of time no matter how free it was. Splurge a little and spend a dollar on a better version. You especially don't want to use this version for study as it will take you so much time t simply decifer, let alon study it.
This book was very insperational to me
I have read much poetry in the past 20+ years, including Walt¿s, and I still like his poetry very much. If you read Walt¿s poems before, then you know he¿s a great Poet. If you haven¿t read any of his work, then this is a good book to start off reading his poetic works.
Whitman is the great American poet, the one whose spirit encompasses the vast catalogue of a continent in expansion. His language has a hypnotic rhythmic quality, and the colloquial collector of his own heightened perceptions is too a most sympathetic unraveler of the human soul. Apparently wound-dresser Whitman was a first - rate human being as well. There are parts of ' Leaves of Grass' I believe 'When I Heard the Learned Astronomer ' is one which belong in the Canon of Mankind , and will sing to us down through the 'Ages'.
Leaves Of Grass is our American Master peice! He took poetry to a more complex level, simple free verse written from his soul. He was the first poet to inspire me as a poet.Each leaf falls from the tree of monumental size.
If you want to know where free verse and modern poetry began, then look no further, it all began with Whitman. I remember the first time I read Song Of Myself; it was sheer joy. I had discovered another country, and believe me, I often go there when I need spiritual sustenance and refreshment. A great poet was this man, Walt Whitman.
This edition of The Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, contains 12 poems, compared with the final, or deathbed edition of 1892, which contains hundreds. But this is Whitman at his best, with a vision so inclusive as to astonish. I believe this book to be one of the world's greatest spiritual texts - surprised? Read it!
Walt Whitman is one of the most influential and talented poets in the history of American Literature. His poems are beautiful and can easily be related to today. His ideas are romantic, almost transendental. Leaves of Grass is and will remain a favorite of this teenager.
Walt Whitman is hailed as one of the greatest American poets. I've wanted to read Leaves of Grass for many years, and finally got around to it, only to be disappointed. I don't know what to say other than this isn't my style of poetry. It feels like one long stream-of-conscious thought without any kind of cohesion. I've read some reviews that said this version had horrible formatting. And some said that the presentation was misleading, and it isn't the original edition, but an edition that Whitman edited and added to over the years, causing it to lose its power. Whatever the case may be, I made no connection to it at all. Not even enough for me to try another edition.
Format was extremely frustrating on my nook glowlight
I had forgotten how much I love Walt Whitman. This copy of the first edition of Leaves of Grass has most of my favorite of his poems - if you have read or memorized from a later edition, much of the wording is different. Some of the poems have an entirely different slant - I prefer the original to those altered over time.... I treated myself to this and several other 'old favorites' when I got my income tax refund this year. Between the garden and Goodreads Giveaways I do not have the time I had for self-indulgent reading! This is one I will read more often.
do you have an older brother called matthew who goes to a private school and you went to this camp called rec pac?
She's also not very strong... she's weak and not good at much. Scared, blind, weak, but very beautiful.
Very nice reading when time permits me to think upon the common events of life.
Great. I read it to my boys,they loved it! My boys never love anything!