Walt Whitman

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Why does Whitman's poetry and prose grip and excite one group of contemporary readers while repelling some others? Why are his writings recited, sung, and even danced by one group but virtually kept under cover by another? What is the essential energetic charge in his work that reaches into the heart, that fascinates and even hypnotizes, while being considered merely facile or flamboyant by other readers?
This book seeks to answer these questions. It begins with a thorough biography before considering Whitman's work: the poetry as well as the prose. Since his writings closely reflect experiences as office boy, schoolteacher, typesetter, journalist, editor, hospital nurse, and clerk in the office of attorney general of the United States, they virtually span and encapsulate the American experience. Leaves of Grass, in its various editions, is probably the most influential body of poetic writing published by an American. Favorites such as "Song of Myself," "I Sing the Body Electric," "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," "Song of the Open Road," and "O Captain! My Captain!" are all discussed. In the process, Whitman's place in world literature is acknowledged.
Walt Whitman was unique in his time and remains unique today. A poet who made body and soul one, he was a uniter of the disparate - the poet of city and country, the poet of time and space, the poet of America and the world.

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The Work

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About the author (1993)

Bettina L. Knapp is professor of French and comparative literature at Hunter College.

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