Victorian Era Abroad: Q1: Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

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Victorian Era Abroad: Q1: Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

joulukuu 21, 2022, 4:50 pm

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman is probably one of the most American books one can find. It was originally published in 1855 but Whitman never stopped revising and adding to his collection: the first edition contains twelve poems, and the last edition, known as the "Death-Bed" Edition and published in 1892, contains about 400.

The first edition's 12 poems were unnamed but they got their titles in later edition so here is the list: "Song of Myself", "A Song for Occupations", "To Think of Time", "The Sleepers", "I Sing the Body Electric", "Faces", "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?" and "Great Are the Myths".

In 1882 the Boston district attorney called the book "obscene literature" in a letter to Whitman's publisher: he demanded the removal of the poems "A Woman Waits for Me" and "To a Common Prostitute", as well as changes to "Song of Myself", "From Pent-Up Aching Rivers", "I Sing the Body Electric", "Spontaneous Me", "Native Moments", "The Dalliance of the Eagles", "By Blue Ontario's Shore", "Unfolded Out of the Folds", "The Sleepers", and "Faces" (from Wikipedia). Whitman refused to change his poems, the publisher refused to republish the book, the book was banned in Boston and by some retailers in Philadelphia and Whitman changed publishers (his old publisher was bound to go bankrupt 3 years later, see more about that in the sister thread about Henry James' The Bostonians) and the first edition of a 1,000 copies with the new publisher (Rees Welsh & Company) ended up selling out in a single day. One wonders if Osgood (his old publisher) ever regretted losing the poet...

Chose your own edition to read - the very first original 12 poems or the last one (or one in the middle).

You prefer to listen? has the final edition recorded for you :)

Project Gutenberg has an ebook version in a lot of formats: and most of the poems are available online.

Especially for the Americans in the group: come and tell us more about your connection to Whitman through the years (if you have one that is). But feel free to do the same even if you are not American.

joulukuu 28, 2022, 11:41 pm

All these intro posts are really nice, Annie. I’m not sure I can get to any of these books, but this might be a decent one to try out. Maybe.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 30, 2022, 6:00 pm

On the evening of November 9, when it was becoming clear that the US election had gone unexpectedly well (in my opinion), I picked up my old copy of Leaves (deathbed). Our great giant of a country had done something right, let's see what Walt had to say. I've finished through "Song" so far. Happy to see this thread, thanks AnnieMod.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 2, 7:57 am

Tempting, very tempting. I've only ever got a little (powerful) way with him. Having dared to open this thread, maybe I could try, to start with, the original twelve poems (and will find out in process if they were edited at all in the later version, which is what I have). I feel some connection somehow, but its vague mostly, a friend is a bigger devotee, maybe for me it is to do with identity/ies in a world with another point of view, his title and constant addition to it too.

edit - I'm away from my copy right now, but checking my library i see I have the 'death bed edition' which has the final versions (only I think) - so I will be looking into if and how those poems changed.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 2, 9:30 am

I read Mark Doty’s book on his relationship with Whitman’s verse What is the grass? about 18 months ago, and made a note to reread Whitman soon, so this falls out quite well.

I’m not sure if I should recommend Doty: his is a very subjective take, it certainly won’t suit everyone.

A short excerpt from what I said about my starting point on Whitman when I reviewed the Doty book. I wonder if it will survive renewed contact with the text?
…there's a gloriously liberating quality in the way he digs out handfuls of names and trade-terms and idioms, formal and informal, and takes it for granted that there is a poem in there somewhere; there's his endless fascination with breaking down the barrier of skin between himself and the rest of humanity (especially beautiful working men...) — but there's also his brash self-promotion, his arrogant assumption of American primacy in the world, his Wordsworth-like descent into celebrity-prophet status in old age, and the way that so many of his best lines have been turned into clichés that make it difficult to read them afresh. And — perhaps above all — he's a poet who gave implicit permission to generations and generations of lesser imitators (especially, but not exclusively, in his own country) to rant endlessly in free verse.

tammikuu 3, 9:47 am

>5 thorold: Will be interesting to see your current views!

helmikuu 13, 1:10 am

So I picked up a copy of the 1855 original, 162 pages on Kindle. I spent 20 minutes reading what felt something like how I imagine 1960's & 70's Buddhist/hippie/TimothyLeary/Ram Dass philosophy (none of which I've read) to be. But mainly the poem didn't seem to go anywhere, but just sort if hovered on this open up and embrace the world idea, restated in different ways. So, I'm wondering, do I continue? Does it accumulate into something more?

helmikuu 13, 12:14 pm

>7 dchaikin: Hum... This is not encouraging...
As we are at the beginning of a school break here, I was planning to read one peom a day from the 1855 original edition. I've not started yet, but now I'm not sure I should...

helmikuu 14, 7:45 am

I got the 1855 edition too, i have the last edition but this seemed a good way to go, I haven't read any yet though due to other reads, but you're prompting me. I did read some of that other edition before, so it doesn't wholly surprise me . . . I'm thinking relax, go with the flow, know how much you like it when you've read it Kat.

helmikuu 14, 3:09 pm

>9 tonikat: i may try again, after prepping my brain a little beforehand. 🙂

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 14, 3:18 pm

>10 dchaikin: With Whitman, I've found that just letting him drone about whatever he is onto in that specific text works out better than trying on analyze in smaller parts. At the end, I end up liking most of what I've read of him - but the reading itself can be frustrating the first time - he is a bit too modernistic for my usual tastes.

On the topic of - I have the Norton edition and it has both the final version and the 1855 one. So I plan to start with the 1855 one (the Preface is also there) and then read the latest. Which may take most of the year... :)

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 22, 1:30 pm

I started the 1855 edition I got on Kindle - it comes with a longish preface before Song of Myself, which I read today and enjoyed a lot. But I see no sign of this preface in the death bed edition i have from The Modern Library, which is a pity, I think.
As to that feel, as I read the preface I thought of Kerouac quite a bit.
edit - I also thought I suppose quite a bit in a sort of jealous way of a world so stable in some way, despite the fact of course in just a few years it was so unstable, so what do I know, or maybe it is that he sees such stability in the midst of the cacophany, anyway i like that about it, so far and will be going in search of those sorts of feelings all the more as a result.

edit edit - and although i don't think i can presently access more, just the replication of the opening paragraphs has given me some useful info here - -- perhaps this preface was Walt Whitman freewheelin' for a bit.

helmikuu 24, 11:41 am

Well, I just completed my 1855 edition and most wonderful and beautiful it is too.

I'll let it settle and reread I am sure.

I love it as a testimony of a person of that time, so vivid in what he evokes and being, of course of that time but also beyond it too.

It also made me think, for some reason, as I finished, of the idea of the great american novel - and it struck me what a mirage that idea is and how diverting it is from the works that are. And then it also made me think in a way that this is one of them somehow too.

maaliskuu 5, 9:49 am

I finished Specimen Days in America by Walt Whitman.

I also finished Rambles with John Burroughs which is a a sort of biography of John Burroughs and also has a chapter on the friendship between Burroughs and Whitman.

maaliskuu 19, 7:45 am

I’m not sure if I’m going to finish it by the end of Q1, but I’m enjoying myself listening to a bit here and there. I’m just about to start crossing Brooklyn Ferry. He is a self-satisfied old windbag sometimes, and the readers of the audiobook I’m listening to don’t help by reading as though it’s a lesson in church, but it is astonishing stuff that takes me by surprise every time I come back to it.