Friday, May 19, 2006 05/19/06-Walt Whitman

In today's excerpt, the American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892):

"Whitman's intense love of country was reflected in his art. Leaves of Grass was not simply a book of poetry, it was a working manifesto for a new American religion based upon 'the supremacy of Individuality'--and Whitman himself was nothing if not an individual. His groundbreaking poetry, with its frank discussion of sex, bodily functions, and sweaty quotidian life, together with his carefully cultivated image as a rough-and-ready man of the people, openly challenged accepted norms of behavior. His 'barbaric yawp' was a new kind of language, the lingua franca of the common man, transmitting its revolutionary message of self-liberation and personal worth to people across all strata of society.

"The all-including 'I' of 'Song of Myself,' the longest poem in Leaves of Grass and the first great poem in the American vernacular, was not simply 'Walt Whitman, an American' but men and women everywhere, particularly those of his native country. 'I celebrate myself and sing myself,' he said in the poem's famous opening lines, 'and what I assume you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.' He heard America singing, he said, in the humble voices of her workers, the unheralded farmers, sailors, storekeepers and mechanics who quietly transacted the daily business of the republic."

Roy Morris, Jr., The Better Angel, Oxford, 2000, pp. 13-4


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