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Leaves of Grass


LEAVES OF GRASS is a major work by the poet Walt Whitman, and is known as a strikingly original masterpiece that introduced Whitman's own poetic form, the lyric epic. First published in 1855, the text was expanded, revised, and reissued in six subsequent editions, the last in 1892. Because Whitman's poem was so original and different, it at first met with a mixed critical reception, although Ralph Waldo Emerson immediately recognized Whitman's genius. Contemporaries were unsure of how to react to Leaves of Grass because both its form and content departed markedly from poetic conventions of the day. Whitman wrote entirely in free verse, and combined the traditional historical subject matter of epic poetry with the personal, subjective focus of lyric poetry. His themes were especially notable: Whitman celebrated the creation and restless spirit of America, particularly its westward expansion, and embraced the different experiences of the country's diverse population, including slaves and recent immigrants in his vision. Leaves of Grass was also remarkable for its frank depiction of sexuality and its overtly sensual imagery, which troubled and embarrassed critics in Whitman's day. However, over time Whitman attracted a growing number of readers who appreciated both his artistic achievement and his depiction of a multicultural and truly democratic America.


Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Klammer, Martin. Whitman, Slavery, and the Emergence of Leaves of Grass. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 1995.


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