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Review of November Boughs

Here is Walt Whitman's November Boughs (David Mackay & Co.), a collection of pieces in prose and verse. To the people who live in the appearances of things, to the people who love shams and conventions, to the people who worship the isms which the past has bequeathed, Whitman has no message to convey. He does not live in the trim little parterre which human genius has reduced to order, he is a portion of the great unconquered chaos that surrounds us here, there, and everywhere. His voice comes far away from the distance. You have to pause to listen, and are not always sure you have heard aright, but somehow you feel that the very Distance is the truest part of yourself, and that the far-off voice reveals to you the deeps of your own soul. The things you have vaguely felt are here uttered, and then for the first time perhaps you recognize that you have felt them. Whitman himself tells us in his excellent preliminary essay "A Backward Glance o'er Travelled Roads" that the word he would put primarily for the description of his Leaves of Grass is the word Suggestiveness. "I round and finish little, if anything; and could not, consistently with my scheme. The reader will always have his or her part to do, just as much as I have had mine. I seek less to state or display any theme or thought, and more to bring you, reader, into the atmosphere of the theme or thought, - there to pursue your own flight." But the most characteristic and illuminating passage in this essay is where Whitman tells us, "Ever since what might be call'd thought, or the budding of thought, fairly began in my youthful mind, I had had a desire to attempt some worthy record of that entire faith and acceptance ('to justify the ways of God to man' is Milton's well-known and ambitious phrase) which is the foundation of moral America. I felt it all as positively then in my young days as I do now in my old ones; to formulate a poem whose every thought or fact should directly or indirectly be or connive at an implicit belief in the wisdom, health, mystery, beauty of every process, every concrete object, every human or other existence, not only consider'd from the point of view of all, but of each. While I can not understand it or argue it out, I fully believe in a clue and purpose in Nature, entire and several; and that invisible spiritual results, just as real and definite as the visible, eventuate all concrete life and all materialism, through Time. My book ought to emanate buoyancy and gladness legitimately enough, for it was grown out of those elements, and has been the comfort of my life since it was originally commenced."

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