Poetry: Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection by American poet Walt Whitman. It was first published in 1855, but he spent most of his life (re)writing and expanding it until his death in 1892.

Whitman claimed that after years of competing for “the usual rewards”, he determined to become a poet. He first experimented with a variety of popular literary genres which appealed to the cultural tastes of the period. As early as 1850, he began writing what would become “Leaves of Grass”, a collection of poetry which he would continue editing and revising until his death.

The poems in the first edition were:

  • Song of Myself
  • “A Song for Occupations”
  • “To Think of Time”
  • “The Sleepers”
  • “I Sing the Body Electric”
  • “Faces”
  • “Song of the Answerer”
  • “Europe: The 72d and 73d Years of These States”
  • “A Boston Ballad”
  • “There Was a Child Went Forth”
  • “Who Learns My Lesson Complete?” and
  • “Great Are the Myths”

Whitman intended to write a distinctly American epic and used free verse with a cadence based on the Bible. He paid for the publication and printing of the first edition himself. 795 copies were printed without an author mentioned, though he does mention his name in the introduction. The first edition was widely distributed and garnered a lot of interest – mostly because Ralph Waldo Emerson praised it. Though the work was also criticised for the obscene nature of the poetry.

Happy reading,

Loes M.

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