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Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

By Loyal Books

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Nearly 160 years after it was first published, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass continues to inspire, enthrall and educate generations of readers. This collection of poems serves as a vehicle for Whitman's philosophy, ideals, love of nature and mystical musings and it subsequently became one of the corner stones of American literature. Whitman was inspired to write Leaves of Grass based on Ralph Waldo Emerson's clarion call for a truly American poet who would tell of its glories, virtues and vices. In 1855, Whitman self published a small, slim volume containing twelve poems, which included “Song of Myself” “I Sing the Body Electric” and others which went on to gain immortality. Whitman himself wanted the book to be small enough to be carried in a pocket and though some 800 copies were initially printed, this edition did not even contain the author's name. Ralph Waldo Emerson who received a copy went on to lavishly praise the work and wrote to Whitman saying, “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” The rest, as they say, made publication history. Many subsequent editions were published and Whitman continuously added more and more poems to the collection. Today, Leaves of Grass contains nearly 400 poems all of which celebrate America and the American way of life. His subjects and concerns include slavery, nature, the Civil War, death, love, romance, spirituality, freedom and dignity of labor. One of his most famous poems, “O Captain, My Captain” in memory of Abraham Lincoln is contained in the last edition, printed in 1892. Called the “deathbed edition” it was published a few months before Whitman's death. His style includes sweeping lines of free verse, iambic forms and other interesting rhyming and non-rhyming forms of verse. Strangely enough, the book was received by some upholders of public morality to be extremely indecent and obscene. Walt Whitman was dismissed from his government job after his superior read and found the book highly offensive. Literary critics severely castigated the book, while poems like “A Woman Waits for Me” and “To A Common Prostitute” were dubbed profane. However, Whitman kept on writing according to his personal dictates and today, Leaves of Grass is seen as echoing the voice and the sentiments of the common man who loves freedom and beauty. It has been celebrated in media as diverse as television, rap music and modern novels and will surely appeal to readers who enjoy poetry and are interested in the literary history of America.