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within its covers, does "Leaves of Grass," the life and thought and feeling of one man; it was first published when the author was 36 years of age and he actually never wrote another book even though he lived to be 73 years of age; what he did all the rest of his life after publishing the first edition of "Leaves of Grass," was to rewrite and extend the first book.

Fifth, as to literary rank abroad. No other American poet, except Poe, has the name, the persistent audiences across decades of time, and the pervasive influence, credited to Walt Whitman as an American writer, an American force in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the archipelagoes of the sea.

Sixth, as to influence in America. No other American book has so persistent a crowd of friends, advocates and sponsors as that which from decade to decade carries on the ballyhoo for "Leaves of Grass"; in Chicago, as an instance, Walt Whitman is the only dead or living American author whose memory is kept by an informal organization that memorializes its hero with an annual dinner.

Seventh, as to Americanism. "Leaves of Grass" is the most wildly keyed solemn oath that America means something and is going somewhere that has ever been written; it is America's most classic advertisement of itself as having purpose, destiny, banners and beaconfires.

Therefore-because of the foregoing seven itemized points-and because there are further points into which the annals might be lengthened -and because still furthermore there are great and mystic points of contact that cannot be captured in itemized information-therefore "Leaves of Grass" is a book to be owned, kept,

loaned, fought over, and read till it is dog-eared and dirty all over.

It was in 1855 that Whitman offered the American public its first chance at his poetry. Because no publisher of that day cared to undertake publication of the book, "Leaves of Grass," the poet was his own publisher. That is, he invited himself to take a header into literature, accepted the invitation, and went to the party unabashed, in his shirtsleeves and in a slouch hat.

There has been mention on occasion of American "shirtsleeve diplomacy." Whitman is the commanding instance in shirtsleeve literature. A second edition of "Leaves of Grass" came out in 1856. And the poet published as a frontispiece a picture of himself in shirtsleeves, knockabout clothes, the left hand in the pants pocket, the right hand on the hip akimbo, the hat tossed at a slant, and the head and general disposition of the cosmos indicating a statement and an inquiry, "Well, here we are; it looks good to us; and while it isn't important, how do you like us?"

On the cover of the book were the words gilded on a green background: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career-R. W. Emerson." The generally accredited foremost reputable figure of American letters and philosophy had written those words to Whitman the year before.

And in order to let everybody in and give free speech full play, there was printed as the last thing in the book, a criticism by a reviewer in the Boston Intelligencer of May 3, 1856, closing with this paragraph: "This book should find no place where humanity urges any claim to respect, and the author should be kicked from all decent society as below the level of the brute. There is neither wit nor method in his disjointed babbling, and it seems to us he must be some escaped lunatic, raving in pitiable delirium."

That was a beginning. It isn't over yet. The controversy yet rises and subsides.

The best loved figure in American literature— by those who loved him-he is counted also the most heartily damned figure-by those who damned him.

The most highly praised and the most roundly excoriated book America has produced-that is Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass."

"He is the poet who brought the slop-pail into the parlor," wrote one critic. "He is one of the sublime figures of all human annals, one to be set for companionship with Confucius, Socrates, and the teachers of high and sacred living," wrote another critic.

"The man was mad, mad beyond the cavil of a doubt," wrote Max Nordau. Another European critic, Gabriel Sarrin, wrote: "He is the apostle of the idea that man is an indivisible fragment of the universal Divinity."

Walt Whitman is the only established epic poet of America. He is the single American figure that both American and European artists and critics most often put in a class or throw into a category with Shakespeare, Dante, Homer. He is the one American writer that Emerson, Burroughs, John Muir, Edward Carpenter, and similar observers enter in their lists as having a size in history and an importance of, utterance that places him with Socrates, Confucius, Lao Tse, and the silver-grey men of the half-worlds who left the Bhagavad Gita and writings known most often as sacred.

In stature, pride, stride, and scope of personality, he is a challenger. He warns us to come with good teeth if we are to join in his menuto bring along our rough weather clothes. He is likely any time to tip us out of the boat to see whether we swim or sink. And there are blanks to be filled in among his writings where he seems

to have whispered, "I am going away now and I leave you alone to work it out for yourself— you came alone and you will have to go away alone."

Walt Whitman wrote his vital passages at the height of America's most stormily human period of history. "We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read," said Abraham Lincoln in the famous "Lost Speech" delivered the same year Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" was first published.

"Blood will flow and brother's hand will be raised against brother!" was the passionate outcry of that same speech, which because of its tenor of violence was withheld from publication and distribution by its orator.

In this same decade, Charles A. Dana, managing editor of the New York Tribune, was writing: "It may be that the day of revolutions is past, but, if so, why are they there in such abundance? Let others give aid and comfort to despots. Be it ours to stand for Liberty and Justice, nor fear to lock arms with those who are called hotheads and demagogues." The luminous fringes of romance attaching to those abstractions, "Liberty and Justice," as a result of the American and French revolutions, were still in the air. Dana wrote friendly explanations of just what the Frenchman, Proudhon, meant by his thesis, "Property is Robbery." Thoreau was writing an essay, "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience." John Brown was stealing horses, running slaves by the underground railroad from slave to free soil, stocking arsenals, praying over strange, new projects. These all have their significance in showing the tint of the time spirit. Brook Farm, and its Utopian socialist outlooks, Fourier and his phalanxes of workmen, the 1848 revolutions, these were hot topics of the time. The

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far-reaching tides and backwashes of thought and emotion resulting from the French and American revolutions, and all that weave of circumstance touching the secession rights of states of the Union with its ramifications into chattel slavery, besides the swirl of events riding into that epic upheaval, the sectional war-these things, tangibles and intangibles, were in the air and the breath of men in the years when Walt Whitman was bringing his book to focus, getting ready to launch "Leaves of Grass."

The poem of Whitman's most often published in public school readers is "Captain, My Captain." His best single characteristic and authentic poem is "The Song of the Open Road," earlier published under the title, "The Public Road," and still earlier as the "Poem of the Road."

Probably the most majestic threnody to death in the English language is the long piece, written just after the assassination of President Lincoln, entitled, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed." Some readers consider "Passage to India" the poem of profoundest meanings and vision.


Among lovers of Whitman the one line that probably haunts most often is "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." The epithet most frequently quoted in political controversy is "the never-ending audacity of elected persons.' Of hostile criticism the most vivid line is, "He brought the slop-pail into the parlor," a commentary antedating modern plumbing. The most poignantly human note struck in any one line is that in the poem "To a Common Prostitute," where he declares, "Not till the sun excludes you do I exclude you." As "intriguing" as any title is "A Woman Waits for Me.'


The 1856 edition of "Leaves of Grass" contained titles of poems changed in later editions. What is now "A Song for Occupations" was

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