Abraham Lincoln read it with approval, but Emily Dickinson described its bold language and themes as "disgraceful." Ralph Waldo Emerson found it "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet produced." Published at the author's expense on July 4, 1855, Leaves of Grass inaugurated a new voice and style into American letters and gave expression to an optimistic, bombastic vision that took the nation as its subject. Unlike many other editions of Leaves of Grass, which reproduce various short, early versions, this Modern Library Paperback Classics "Death-bed" edition presents everything Whitman wrote in its final form, and includes newly commissioned notes.
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1 . Psalms
Posted December 15, 2008 by Casey Sheldon , Visalia CAIf there were an American religion, this would be its hymnal.
October 24, 2004
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Excerpt from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
IN JANUARY 1892, a few months before his death at the age of seventy-two, a world-famous resident of Camden, New Jersey, prepared this announcement for the press:
Walt Whitman wishes respectfully to notify the public that the book Leaves of Grass, which he has been working on at great intervals and partially issued for the past thirty-five or forty years, is now completed, so to call it, and he would like this new 1892 edition to absolutely supersede all previous ones. Faulty as it is, he decides it is by far his special and entire self-chosen poetic utterance.
The 1892 Leaves of Grass, for sentimental and promotional reasons dubbed the "Deathbed Edition" by Whitman's literary executors and his Philadelphia publisher, was a bulky volume of 438 pages and almost as many poems. Some were love lyrics, candid and explicit celebrations of sexuality, visionary musings, glimpses of nightmare and ecstasy, poems of loneliness, loss, and mourning, among them Whitman's supreme elegy for Abraham Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Othersý"Song of Myself," "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," and "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," for exampleýwere personal testaments that also epitomized American vision and experience in the nineteenth century.
The "ensemble," as Whitman liked to call the organized totality of his work, was willful and far too inclusive, showing him at his worst as well as his incomparable best; it is best read selectively, at least the first time. But "faulty" as it was, the final Leaves of Grass was so much the fulfillment of his entire lifeýits shaping "desire and conviction"ýthat he thought of it as a person, his sole comfort and heart's companion.
Camerado, this is no book,
Who touches this touches a man,
(Is it night? are we here together alone?)
It is I you hold and who holds you,
I spring from the pages into your arms . . .
"Here I sit gossiping in the early candle-light of old age," Whitman wrote in a prose epilogue, "I and my bookýcasting backward glances over our travel'd road. . . . My Book and Iýwhat a period we have presumed to span!" An exact contemporary of Queen Victoria and Herman Melville, he was born in a Long Island farmhouse in 1819, during the first administration of President James Monroe. He came from long-established native stock, landowners, farmers, builders and horse-breeders, who had slid into economic, social, and even genetic decline: of the eight Whitman children who survived infancy, one was the poet who proclaimed his perfect health and perfect blood, three were normal, but four were insane, psychotic, alcoholic, or feebleminded. At one time or another in his early life he was a printer, schoolteacher, newspaper editor, writer of popular fiction (including a novel about the evils of drink, Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate), storekeeper, and building contractor. In hi early thirties, responding to complex inner and outer imperatives, Whitman awoke to a sense of purpose. Emulating Homer, Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott, masters all, he declared, "I will be also a master after my own kind, making the poems of emotions, as they pass or stay, the poems of freedom, and the exposý of personalityýsinging in high tones democracy and the New World of it through These States." A fragment of early verse suggests the profound personal transformation that was part of the foreground of Leaves of Grass:
I cannot be awake, for nothing looks to me as it did before,
Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been
a mean sleep.