Review of the Walt Whitman’s Poetry Collection Leaves of Grass

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection written by the distinguished Walt Whitman, it was first published in 1855 although he continued writing and revising it until 1892, when he died. Whitman is considered not only one of the most relevant writers of the 19th century, but also one of the most important poets in the American canon and father of the free verse—a poetry that has no limitations, meter or rhythm. He claimed to be humanist, for that reason is it that his poetry is a pure celebration of the individual and the individual as a part of the whole, of a group of people who manage to stay unified even though they are very different, a nation.

Whitman handled to mix his journalistic voice— the fascination with every detail of the world around him; and the oratory voice — he addresses the reader directly, using “you” (which can mean a single person or a group) as if you were listening to a speech because he thought that the lector should passionately talk back to the poetry and not accept it in a passive way (“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems… You shall no longer take things at second or third hand… nor look through the eyes of the dead”). In Leave of Grass Whitman deals with many remarkable themes: slavery, democracy, the Civil War, death and immortality even spirituality and transcendentalism; moreover he creates important metaphors to support his writing, for example the leaves of grass as a metaphor of the individual.

One of the most important symbols is the grass because it symbolizes the beauty of the individual, each leaf of grass is different and owns its own specific grace but together they create a beautiful whole. It also symbolizes democracy as for Whitman, democracy was a way of experiencing the world and of mutual cooperation for that it must include all the human beings fairly or it will fail. As a consequence of the Civil War, Whitman witnessed the death of many soldiers and he started writing about the cycle of life, nature and democracy as a way of overcoming the trauma; the flowers, trees and other plant life are to symbolize the re-growth after death, reflecting the endurance and rise of the United States before the brutality of the Civil War destroyed the unlimited possibilities of the United States.

Whitman intention with “Song of Myself” is to become the voice of the nation, to talk for those who were powerless and the most powerful, to defend human equality, because the key for American integrity is the empathy with all the others that are part of the nation. Whitman’s intention was to be the voice for the nation that was divided in political, social, economic and racial ways to the point that the idea of a single voice that stands up for America became impossible to imagine, in fact, every voice that claimed to speak for Americans was an alienating voice. Whitman’s voice is indiscriminant and it includes everybody as equals (“I am of old and young… A southerner soon as a northerner… a Louisianan or Georgian…A farmer, a mechanic, or artist… a gentleman, sailor, lover or quaker”) he wanted to be the voice for all the citizens, no matter who they are because for Whitman we are all the same and worthy (“I speak the password primeval… I give the sign of the democracy, By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counter-part of on the same terms”).

The cycle of growth and death is very important for Whitman as a result of trying to deal with population growth and the incredible number of deaths during the Civil War, focusing on how people are born (“The little one sleeps in its cradle”), age and reproduce (“The youngster and the redfaced girl turn aside up the bushy hill”), and then die (“The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bedroom”). Whitman compares the human cycle of life and death with grass, as grass is live that comes out of the death, we all come from the grass (“Or I guess the grass is itself a child… the produced babe of the vegetation; This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers, darker than the colorless beards of old men”), so we can say that death is not the end, as we reborn from the grass (“All goes onward and outward… and nothing collapses, and to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier”).

The lists that Whitman creates are another important symbol to emphasize the growth of America, each clause describe a scene, person or object in order to create a reflection of the diversification of the United States and its citizens. The use of numerous adjectives shapes the complexity of the individual as authentic individual need to be described with various adjectives. The use of lists it is also a way of seeing democracy in process as in lists all elements have the same importance and consideration.

Whitman’s concept of self, explores the possibilities for the togetherness between people, assuming that “what I assume you shall assume” as we are the same. Using the pronoun I, Whitman highlights the link between the self and the conception of poetry, as if the self were the origin of poetry. As Alice L. Cooke says: “the key to the understanding of this poem, as of all of Leaves of Grass, is the concept of self (typified by Walt Whitman) as both individual and universal”. Whitman includes colloquialisms, slang, regional dialects and even an elegy for the assassinated Abraham Lincoln (“Oh Captain! My Captain!”) in order to emphasizes the nationalist American feeling. According to Rebecca Coy:

Significant of his warm patriotism is the number of political or national terms found in his poetry: Stars and Stripes, Yankee Doodle, Congressman, Old Thirteen, and the like. Another product of his nationalistic spirit is the use of nicknames for states and in habitants of states: Tuckahoe, Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye, Granite State, and Empire State. An even closer and more intimate feeling of nationalism, of a spirit wholly and fervently American, is given by the use of words descriptive of American scenes, creatures, and occupation (Coy, 116)

To sum up, Whitman has been a great influence on the coming generations and a major figure in the world thanks to his innovative free verse and his capacity to create art through words. American poets have declared that Whitman’s profound poetry is a link with the American national character, a true voice for the United States. By using his personal experiences and descriptions of different people, places and objects Whitman creates an analogy about the optimal democracy which must contain the whole word. Leave of Grass is a complex an unique piece of art that allows people feel close to each other, feel empathy for the imperfect humanity and it also allows people to see the consequences of having the “wrong” dream.


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