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Review of Leaves of Grass (1855)

[ . . .] We1 have still said nothing of Mr. Ernest Jones’s war strains; of a new poem by the American poet, Mr. Buchanan Reade∗—a gracefully rhymed, imaginative story; or of another American production which, according to some Transatlantic critics, is to initiate a new school of poetry. This is a poem called "Leaves of Grass,"† and, instead of criticizing it, we will give a short extract, typical in every respect, except that it contains none of the very bold expressions by which the author indicates his contempt for the “prejudices” of decency.

"A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child?…I do not know what it is any  
 more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful  
 green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord, A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped, Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we  
 may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child…the produced babe of  
 the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic, And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones Growing among black folks as among white, Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I  
 receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
. . . .
I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals…  
 they are so placid and self-contained,
I stand and look at them sometimes half the day long. They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied…not one is demented with the  
 mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another nor to his kind that lived  
 thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth."
"The House by the Sea: a Poem." By Thomas Buchanan Reade. London: Trübner and Co. "Leaves of Grass." London: Horsell.


1. In the first pages of this essay Eliot treats a variety of works, ranging from John Ruskin's Modern Painters and Adolf Stahr's study of Greek sculpture to a collection of tales by Wilkie Collins and a translation of Homer's Iliad. It is only at the end of the essay that she makes the following comments regarding Leaves of Grass. [back]

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