On Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass

In February and March, I am rereading Walt Whitman’s 1855 first version of his Leaves of Grass, and of course finding new delights. I still have the Penguin Classics paperback edition, from my college days. Editor Malcolm Cowley of this edition remains right: Whitman’s first versions of his poems are freshest, brightest, and most invigorating.

Whitman, famously of the capacious self, strikes me as even more capacious this time around: literally peopled, transparent, yet returning again and again to himself, until of course, he leaves in lazy jags at the end of one of his poems.

Yesterday, I was struck this time around by this line from the “I am a teacher of athletes” section (No. 47):

“I do not say these things for a dollar, or to fill up the time while I wait for a boat.”

I enjoy the humor of it, and also its plain-speaking seriousness.

This last time I dived into the complete 1855 “Song of Myself” was on July 4, 2019, with a cousin of a friend – we took turns and read it out loud – as part of our casual, impromptu, and sun-baked and lazy July 4th celebration day in Hazelton, PA.

I still have the sleepers and some other episodes to finish up, and this won’t be the last time I revisit this epic.