Leaves of grass

by Walt Whitman

Hardcover, 1938



Call number



New York : Books, Inc., [1938?]

Media reviews

Whitman's verse-technique is still of interest to the prosodist. His basic rhythm is an epic one—the Virgilian dactyl-spondee—and his line often hexametric. He sometimes sounds like Clough's Amours de Voyage, though it would be hard to imagine a greater disparity of tone and attitude than that which subsists between these two Victorians. Nevertheless, both Clough and Whitman saw that the loose hexameter could admit the contemporary and sometimes the colloquial.. He has only one subject—acceptance of the life-death cycle and reverence for it—and, since he uses an invariable technique, Leaves of Grass has a unity to be found in few other poets' collected volumes... But Whitman's aim is rather to present a universal democratic vista in terms of the American myth. The America of his poems sometimes seems as symbolic as that of Blake, and the bearded figure that strides across it with a big hello—the Answerer, all things to all men—is as much a home-made archetype as the Giant Albion.
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The United States Review
Nature may have given the hint to the author of the "Leaves of Grass", but there exists no book or fragment of a book, which can have given the hint to them. All beauty, he says, comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain... Who then is that insolent unknown? Who is it, praising himself as if others were not fit to do it, and coming rough and unbidden among writers to unsettle what was settled, and to revolutionize, in fact, our modern civilization?

You have come in good time, Walt Whitman! In opinions, in manners, in costumes, in books, in the aims and occupancy of life, in associates, in poems, conformity to all unnatural and tainted customs passes without remark, while perfect naturalness, health, faith, self-reliance, and all primal expressions of the manliest love and friendship, subject one to the stare and controversy of the world.

User reviews

LibraryThing member benjamin.duffy
2011 will go down, for me, as The Year Ben Caught Up On His Classics. Partly due to shame at continually seeing "Top 100" lists (B&N, Modern Library, etc.) of which I had invariably only read about 10, partly due to increased reading time thanks to becoming a train commuter, but mostly due to buying an e-reader and suddenly having easy, free access to public domain material, I've spent a good chunk of this year reading famous old books. Some of them were great; others, mediocre. Some of them have aged beautifully; others now seem quaint, silly, or merely boring.

In any event, whether I've enjoyed the books or not, when I sit down to review them, I do so knowing that my better-read friends have probably already read them, often decades ago. And thus it is with Leaves of Grass. There's nothing I'm going to be able to say to shed any new light on a work that's been loved, hated, studied and scrutinized for over a century, and has had numerous critical works written about it. So I won't even try. But here are a few personal observations, in lazy man's bullet points, because I write paragraphs for a living and I'm on vacation right now:

- This is a warm, beautiful collection of writings. Whitman makes constant references to throwing his arm around you, the reader, and the tone of the writing bears that out. Walt is the drunk guy at the party who really loves you, maaaaaannnnn, and keeps giving you hugs.
- I love how he manages to give structure to his poems. "Free verse" is really a misnomer, I think, because the verse is musical and wonderfully well-crafted. Shorn of the restrictions of meter or rhyme, Whitman makes amazing use of alliteration and psalm-like repetition to impart rhythm. These are lovely poems to read out loud.
- This stuff must have been scandalously graphic for the time period. There's a lot of throbbing and sliding going on. I can see why Emily Dickinson hated it.
- It's interesting how Whitman's persona and point of view subtly shift: from omnipotent and omniscient, to solipsistic; from being above all, to being one with everything. One moment he's a silent, ghostly observer, separate from the observed, and the next moment he's just one more microscopic cell in the sweaty body of humanity.

Leaves of Grass is so intense that it actually started to burn a bit by the end, an overstimulated, almost snowblind feeling. I suppose that's to be expected when you read in a few dozen hours what took a lifetime to write. I feel as though this is a book I will come back to for small doses, re-savoring favorite passages when the occasion and mood call for it. Wise, kind, funny, sexy, generous, and passionate. I'm sorry I waited 38 years to let Walt sound his barbarian yawp across the screen of my Kindle.
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LibraryThing member pingobarg
a literary find. read with different understanding each decade of my life so far. still have my original copy - a gift at age 16 of a 1921 edition... can't even see the title on the cover anymore. all my reading has been measured against this volume. everyone should read it - at least once.
LibraryThing member Enamoredsoul
Walt Whitman is a genius of a poet. He takes what seems like existential ramblings, and turns them into beautiful and self-reflective pieces of art. This is not just poetry, it’s literally a thesis on life, a philosophical treasure, a song that celebrates being alive, a picture depicting the cycles of life, an ode to the SOUL – simple thoughts, taken to extraordinary levels by an extraordinary man.

Although to some, the poems may be too open-ended, long, tedious or verbose to appear enjoyable - but, when you lay bare the meaning behind Whitman's words, you cannot help but feel empowered, aware, introspective, a believer in life, the lover of a human body, and a worshiper of the human soul. What more can you ask from a poet, and his poetry? Read it, live it, and love it!
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LibraryThing member YvonneK7
The book that started it all. I would never have gone back to college if I hadn't read this--carried it with me everywhere for months! Walt Whitman is my "great uncle."
LibraryThing member varwenea
This delightful Illustrated Leaves of Grass, with introduction by William Carlos Williams (also a poet) and edited by Howard Chapnick, provides clarity and adds dimension to 14 complete poems and 6 excerpts of his longer works. The photos, lay side-by-side with the text, made Whitman’s words pop and dance. His message is so clear, strong, and timeless when presented in this format. Considering Leaves of Grass was written between 1855 to 1892 and these photos are from 1960 to 1970, it certainly has withstood the test of time. I can even visualize what a version with current events may look.

In the introduction by Williams, he wrote, “Whitman came from a rhetorical and long-winded age.” I laughed and didn’t feel so bad that I had said Whitman word-puked in my recent Leaves of Grass review. He also wrote, “Never to my knowledge had the subjects of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass been so presented! The poem came alive for me as if for the first time.” Well said. I uploaded a few pictures in my gallery to share.

More Quotes:

On Equality from “Song of Myself”:
“I am the poet of the woman
the same as the man;
And I say it is as great to be
a woman as to be a man;
And I say there is nothing
greater than the mother
of men.”

On Celebration of the Body and the Relationship between Men and Women, from “I Sing the Body Electric”:
“I sing the Body electric;
The armies of those I love engirth me,
and I engirth them;
They will not let me off till I go with them,
respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full
with the charge of the Soul.
Was it doubted that those who corrupt
their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living
are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do as much
as the Soul?
And if the body were not the Soul,
what is the Soul?
The love of the Body of man or woman
balks account – the body itself balks account;
That of the male is perfect, and that
of the female is perfect.”

On Aging, from “To Old Age”:
“I see in you the estuary that
enlarges and spreads itself grandly
as it pours in the great Sea.” ----- I love this line

On Adventure and the Journey of Life, from “Song of the Open Road”:
“Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune – I myself am good-fortune;
Strong and content, I travel the open road.”


“Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,
They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the spacious
clouds, and along the landscape and flowing currents.”


“Mon enfant! I give you my hand!
I give you my love, more precious than money,
I give you myself, before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”

On President Lincoln’s Assassination – one of his most moving pieces:

"O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills; 10
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won; 20
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead."

On Whitman’s Acceptance of Death:

“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I am,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
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LibraryThing member alexanme
yes, its beautiful and inspiring and whatnot

i suppose i dont feel like walt's radical equanimity and universal love have much to offer the present moment in the US. like, ya i get that it must have been super subversive for the time, thats rad and all, but walt only gets as far as "mb... criminals and poor ppl r not bad," never quite reaching "mb... police and rich ppl r bad"

yes im being reductive but frankly idgaf. like, this sort of even-handedness can only do so much, can only go so far. at least nietzsche transforms his ultra-individualism into a clarion call for action and vibrant life. i certainly like walt's sort of existentialism better than nietzsche's, but damn walt just makes it so f*ck*ng BORING, so content w the world as it is! nietzsche, in his refutation of schopenhauer and the dharmic traditions, attempted to find a role for striving, for desire, for ego within the physical world of direct unmediated sensation. when this centered direction is taken out of existentialism, we're left w a bland acceptance of the world of illusions, a sad refusal to acknowledge to reality of suffering that suffuses all, in its horrifying depth

several passages reminded me of this famous dril tweet:

the wise man bowed his head solemnly and spoke: "theres actually zero difference between good and bad things. you imbecile. you f*ck*ng moron." (June 1, 2014)
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LibraryThing member Zissou54
Probably my favorite poet of all time or at least right up there. This collection was basically the one work Whitman did throughout his life and with each edition new poems or changes to previous poems would happen. I cannot say that I am much of an authority on poetry but I thoroughly enjoy Whitman's works and believe they should be read by all!… (more)
LibraryThing member Tors
Honestly my favorite collection of poems. The open road is my favorite.

Walt Whitman discusses the connectedness of nature, democracy, and subtler, prettier things.
LibraryThing member becskau
This is a book of poetry from Walt Whitman. I include this in texts that I would use in the classroom because I think that it is important for students to study several genres, poetry being one of them. This book in particular I find appealing because of the shift it represents in published poetry of the time; moving from traditional imagery of poetry to more edgy (and realistic) themes that move away from simply spiritual meditations.… (more)
LibraryThing member keylawk
Born May 31, 1819 near Long Island, raised in Brooklyn. Served as office boy to a lawyer and a doctor, learned the printing trades, some teaching. Fired from editorship for expressing progressive principles. During Civil War, worked with the wounded in hospitals. Published LEAVES at his own expense
LibraryThing member rizeandshine
While I appreciate the beautiful language used by Walt Whitman and free verse poetry in general, I am not really a fan. I much prefer the rhyming verse of Tennyson, Longfellow, Browning, etc. In fact, the one poem by Whitman that I really enjoy is O Captain! My Captain!, with conventional meter and rhyme. I am glad that I read this book and familiarized myself with Whitman's style, but it's not really for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member jayceebee
For some reason, Walt Whitman and Brahms are tied up in my mind as the same person...kinda like God and Santa Claus were when I was a kid. Regardless, Whitman (like Brahms) is obviously a genius!
LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
A lot of the poems didn't speak to me. Particularly the war and patriotism ones. But in amongst those are some absolute gems on the topic of love and looks, work and life. And compost! How can I not approve of a man who writes a poem about compost?
LibraryThing member sublunarie
My favorite Whitman piece is "To You, Whoever You Are". This poem is not included in the 1855 edition of Leaves Of Grass.

This is the only reason I am not giving it 5 stars. And it's no fault of Walt's. Not even my own, I just felt I needed to own this edition. Surely I will procure the deathbed edition in due time and while some more hours away in the sunshine reading his genius.

I love Walt Whitman, period.
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LibraryThing member JuliaBoechat
Song of Myself

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

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LibraryThing member Zumbanista
I'm not a huge fan of poetry normally but I do like history, so thought I'd give Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman a try.

I downloaded my copy from Project Gutenberg after doing a bit of research. I decided to read the "Deathbed Version" of the original 12 poems, which were untitled when originally published in 1855. Whitman continuously revised his work for the remainder of his life with nearly 400 poems making up the 1892 Deathbed version.

I found it difficult to sit and read more than a couple of poems in one sitting. Whitman's stunning volume of words wore me down.

I would say I somewhat enjoyed the poems I read and that my 3 star rating reflects this. I acknowledge Whitman's innovation, creativity and place in history.

I'd like to think I'd come back to read other selected poems in Leaves of Grass, such as the ones dealing with Lincoln and the patriotic ones pre-Civil War.

What I really need is a proper guide and analysis plus a comparison of the poems during their evolution over the years. But that all begins to sound like a lot of study and effort that I'm not keen to undertake.

The poems I read were:
Song of Myself
A Song for Occupations
To Think of Time
The Sleepers
I Sing the Body Electric
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?
Great Are the Myths
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LibraryThing member haikupatriot
a Classic The greatness of the USA and those She welcomes from other countries
LibraryThing member sharamassey2014
I love Walt Whitman! He is my favorite poet. He saw things in a simplicity that had to divine in nature. He looked at the world through a childlike love. He wrote with his heart wide open.
LibraryThing member hbergander
The first edition, a small booklet of just a hundred pages containing a dozen poems, shows Whitman in farmer clothes, the last one with almost four hundred poems depicts a long-bearded old wise man. Whenever I reread his poems I am astonished, that the poet who praised the beauty of his country and its natural landscape obviously did never leave the small perimeter of N. Y. and Washington D. C.… (more)
LibraryThing member ElisabethZguta
Walt Whitman was a visionary, a tolerant and kind man, who spoke out about injustices and did not allow himself to conform. Looking into the soul of human motivation and reaction, he purposefully chose everyday people to demonstrate his loftiest ideas. He had deep feelings about humanity's return to the earth, completing the cycle of life. The war greatly influenced his ideals, and probably was a trigger for him to create updated editions of this poem, and with each he honed the lines and the placement. In many ways, this self educated and self published author was also a book maker - taking into account everything about the physical book as well as the content. He rejected censorship and joined in with other bohemian writers of the day. I read this poem slowly with a class over a period of weeks, and we discussed a lot of the background, and how his words were influenced by the events of the day. Walt Whitman's vision and words are relevant still today.
Excerpt from section Full Of Life Now
"When you read these I that was visible am become invisible,
Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems, seeking me,
Fancying how happy you were if I could be with you and become your comrade;
Be it as if I were with you. (Be not too certain but I am now with you.)"
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LibraryThing member engpunk77
I actually did have to read this entire collection of poems. I actually did hate that fact. I happened to enjoy some of it, and much of it made me what to stab my eyes out with knitting needles. Professors, please do not make your students read this entire collection in 1 week in a mandatory survey course for English majors--you are killing Whitman again, and again, and again. Perhaps, if this were an elective course and I had been given the time to enjoy it, I wouldn't shudder when my eyes pass over the spine of this book on my shelf.

My memory of this experience boils down to this: "The red marauder." Wouldn't Whitman want to be remembered for more?
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LibraryThing member Soireb
Read this book as a requirement for an Major American Writers class and found it to incredible. I rarely like the books that are assigned in class, but this one is one of the few exceptions.

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