English Book Club: ‘Leaves of grass’ by Walt Whitman
In 1855, Whitman, finally finding the style and voice he’d been searching for, self-published a slim collection of 12 unnamed poems with a preface titled Leaves of Grass.
Leaves of Grass marked a radical departure from established poetic norms. Tradition was discarded in favor of a voice that came at the reader directly, in the first person, in lines that didn’t rely on rigid meter and instead exhibited an openness to playing with form while approaching prose. On the book’s cover was an iconic image of the bearded poet himself.
Leaves of Grass received little attention at first. The following year, Whitman published a revised edition of Leaves of Grass that featured 32 poems, including a new piece, “Sun-Down Poem”.
Like its earlier edition, this second version of Leaves of Grass failed to gain much commercial traction. In 1860, a Boston publisher issued a third edition of Leaves of Grass. The revised book held some promise, and also was noted for a sensual grouping of poems—the “Children of Adam” series, which explored female-male eroticism, and the “Calamus” series, which explored intimacy between men.
The book is now a landmark in American literatura.
Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819 in West Hills, New York. He grew up in a family of modest means. At 11, Walt Whitman was taken out of school by his father to help out with household income.
He started to work as an office boy for a Brooklyn-based attorney team and eventually found employment in the printing business. When he was 17, Whitman turned to teaching, working as an educator for five years. In 1838 he had started a weekly called the Long Islander and in 1846 he became editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Whitman proved to be a volatile journalist, with a sharp pen and a set of opinions that didn’t always align with his bosses or his readers. He backed what some considered radical positions on women’s property rights, immigration and labor issues.
In 1848 Whitman left New York for New Orleans, where he became editor of the Crescent. It was a relatively short stay for Whitman—just three months—but it was where he saw for the first time the wickedness of slavery. He often worried about the impact of slavery on the future of the country and its democracy.
On March 26, 1892, Walt Whitman passed away in Camden. Right up until the end, he’d continued to work with Leaves of Grass, which during his lifetime had gone through many editions and expanded to some 300 poems.
The English Book Club will meet again to coment this book on saturday December 15th.