Leaves of Grass (Wisehouse Classics - Authentic Reproduction of the 1855 First Edition)

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Wisehouse Classics, Jan 27, 2016 - Poetry - 110 pages
ABOUT THIS EDITION: With exception of the titles of the different parts - which were added, for better navigation, from later editions - this edition presents an authentic reproduction of the original 1855 first edition of 'Leaves of Grass' by Walt Whitman. Taking into account that Whitman did much of the typesetting for the first edition himself, the editors of this reproduction, paid special attention not only to text itself but also to an authentic reproduction of pagination, paragraphing and linebreaks.

LEAVES OF GRASS is a poetry collection by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892). Though the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent most of his professional life writing and re-writing LEAVES OF GRASS, revising it multiple times until his death. This resulted in vastly different editions over four decades-the first a small book of twelve poems and the last a compilation of over 400 poems.

LEAVES OF GRASS has its genesis in an essay called The Poet by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published in 1844, which expressed the need for the United States to have its own new and unique poet to write about the new country's virtues and vices. Whitman, reading the essay, consciously set out to answer Emerson's call as he began work on the first edition of LEAVES OF GRASS. Whitman, however, downplayed Emerson's influence, stating, "I was simmering, simmering, simmering; Emerson brought me to a boil."

On May 15, 1855, Whitman registered the title LEAVES OF GRASS with the clerk of the United States District Court, Southern District of New Jersey, and received its copyright. The first edition was published in Brooklyn at the printing shop of two Scottish immigrants, James and Andrew Rome, whom Whitman had known since the 1840s, on July 4, 1855. Whitman paid for and did much of the typesetting for the first edition himself. The book did not include the author's name, instead offering an engraving by Samuel Hollyer depicting Whitman in work clothes and a jaunty hat, arms at his side. Early advertisements for the first edition appealed to "lovers of literary curiosities" as an oddity. Sales on the book were few but Whitman was not discouraged.

The poems of LEAVES OF GRASS are loosely connected and each represents Whitman's celebration of his philosophy of life and humanity. This book is notable for its discussion of delight in sensual pleasures during a time when such candid displays were considered immoral. Where much previous poetry, especially English, relied on symbolism, allegory, and meditation on the religious and spiritual, LEAVES OF GRASS (particularly the first edition) exalted the body and the material world. Influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement, itself an offshoot of Romanticism, Whitman's poetry praises nature and the individual human's role in it. However, much like Emerson, Whitman does not diminish the role of the mind or the spirit; rather, he elevates the human form and the human mind, deeming both worthy of poetic praise.

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About the author (2016)

Walt Whitman was born on Long Island and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a carpenter. He left school when he was 11 years old to take a variety of jobs. By the time he was 15, Whitman was living on his own in New York City, working as a printer and writing short pieces for newspapers. He spent a few years teaching, but most of his work was either in journalism or politics. Gradually, Whitman became a regular contributor to a variety of Democratic Party newspapers and reviews, and early in his career established a rather eccentric way of life, spending a great deal of time walking the streets, absorbing life and talking with laborers. Extremely fond of the opera, he used his press pass to spend many evenings in the theater. In 1846, Whitman became editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, a leading Democratic newspaper. Two years later, he was fired for opposing the expansion of slavery into the west. Whitman's career as a poet began in 1885, with the publication of the first edition of his poetry collection, Leaves of Grass. The book was self-published (Whitman probably set some of the type himself), and despite his efforts to publicize it - including writing his own reviews - few people read it. One reader who did appreciate it was essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote a letter greeting Whitman at "the beginning of a great career." Whitman's poetry was unlike any verse that had ever been seen. Written without rhyme, in long, loose lines, filled with poetic lists and exclamations taken from Whitman's reading of the Bible, Homer, and Asian poets, these poems were totally unlike conventional poetry. Their subject matter, too, was unusual - the celebration of a free-spirited individualist whose love for all things and people seemed at times disturbingly sensual. In 1860, with the publication of the third edition on Leaves of Grass, Whitman alienated conventional thinkers and writers even more. When he went to Boston to meet Emerson, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes, and poet James Russell Lowell, they all objected to the visit. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman's attentions turned almost exclusively to that conflict. Some of the greatest poetry of his career, including Drum Taps (1865) and his magnificent elegy for President Abraham Lincoln, "When Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" (1865), was written during this period. In 1862, his brother George was wounded in battle, and Whitman went to Washington to nurse him. He continued as a hospital volunteer throughout the war, nursing other wounded soldiers and acting as a benevolent father-figure and confidant. Parts of his memoir Specimen Days (1882) record this period. After the war, Whitman stayed on in Washington, working as a government clerk and continuing to write. In 1873 he suffered a stroke and retired to Camden, New Jersey, where he lived as an invalid for the rest of his life. Ironically, his reputation began to grow during this period, as the public became more receptive to his poetic and personal eccentricities. Whitman tried to capture the spirit of America in a new poetic form. His poetry is rough, colloquial, sweeping in its vistas - a poetic equivalent of the vast land and its varied peoples. Critic Louis Untermeyer has written, "In spite of Whitman's perplexing mannerisms, the poems justify their boundless contradictions. They shake themselves free from rant and bombastic audacities and rise into the clear air of major poetry. Such poetry is not large but self-assured; it knows, as Whitman asserted, the amplitude of time and laughs at dissolution. It contains continents; it unfolds the new heaven and new earth of the Western world." American poetry has never been the same since Whitman tore it away from its formal and thematic constraints, and he is considered by virtually all critics today to be one of the greatest poets the country has ever produced.

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