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In Memory of Walt Whitman

Six years before the onset of the Civil War, in 1855, the American poet Walt Whitman released a book of poetry that included work from the entire span of his career. Having labored over poems like “Song of Myself,” “I Sing the Body Electric” and “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” for much of his life, Whitman was finally ready to publish a full collection, tentatively titled simply Leaves of Grass. He brought the manuscript to a little shop on Fulton Street, owned by two friends who charged him a modest fee, and printed the book himself. He then sent a copy to his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, who sent him back a letter that said the book was “extraordinary.” The praise inspired him to seek out Thayer and Eldridge, a larger publisher in Boston. The company released a second edition with hundreds of additional poems. Over seven editions later, the poet declared the work — now considered one of the greatest books of poetry ever written —to be complete.

In honor of Walt Whitman’s life and work, here’s an excerpt from “Song of Myself:”

“Trippers and askers surround me, 
People I meet, the effect upon me of my early life or the ward and 
city I live in, or the nation, 
The latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies, authors old 
and new, 
My dinner, dress, associates, looks, compliments, dues, 
The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love, 
The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss 
or lack of money, or depressions or exaltations, 
Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, 
the fitful events; 
These come to me days and nights and go from me again, 
But they are not the Me myself.”

Filed under walt whitman poetry ralph waldo emerson lit leaves of grass

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