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Walt Whitman's Poems


When James R. Osgood & Co., of Boston, concluded to bring out a revised and enlarged edition of WALT WHITMAN's "Leaves of Grass," they did the best thing possible for American literature, and performed an act of justice towards the most thoroughly original of American bards. WALT WHITMAN is in himself—and in his book, which is himself—the soul of the new and generous continent. He has its asserting egotism, its crude force, its prolific and bounteous vitality. He has the abounding hospitality, the inspiriting positivism of a people that have girdled the forests and chained the mountains and linked to the respectable traditions of a dead past the vital energies of the living present, and who see in the future they shall conquer, the fulfillment of their dearest prophecies and their divinest expectations.

Reading carefully the nearly three hundred pages of "Leaves of Grass" the student, both of literature and of humanity, can but wonder at the strange power that manifests itself in every paragraph. They may criticise the form of expression, may question the taste of certain passages, but the overlying grace of the poet and the underlying spirit of the philanthropist animate every part. Here is the vigor and splendor that have called forth the admiration of an EMERSON, a LONGFELLOW and a TENNYSON. It is the largeness and vitality of the primal man—the gigantic and multiplied possibilities of a continent of vast lakes and praries, and rivers and mountains and far-reaching, fertile plains. The effeminate and hot-house reader has no need of its pages. As well could he exchange his satin-covered and rose-scented couch for a bed among the pine boughs of the Sierras. Its living imagery and masterly action is to them both coarse and crude. This Elijah in the wilderness, with his coarse vesture and fiery self-assertion, is quite as much an object of scorn to the dainty esthetes as was the old prophet to the college boys who shouted, "Go up thou bald head!" But the new bard is a prophet too, and as such is willing to wait the slow appreciation that comes to the forerunner in any line. Nearing the conclusion of his volume he says:—

"When America does what was promised, When through these States walk a hund- 
 red millions of superb persons,
When the rest part away for superb per- 
 sons and contribute to them,
When breeds of the most perfect mothers  
 denote America,
Then to me and mine our due fruition."

WALT WHITMAN is the poet of democracy, of strict and absolute equality, who exalts woman alike with man. He is the poet of powerful figures, and there is nothing outside of HOMER and the Bible that equals the splendor of his imagery or the elevation of an occasional passage. The thirty-six pages of military verse under the heading "Drum Taps" contain matchless descriptions of scenes of camp and battle, unequalled by those of any modern writer. "Autumn Rivulets" and "From Noon to Starry Night" are full of indescribable flights. Quoting from the closing poem again, "So Long," the poet prophesies of what shall come after him:

"I announce natural persons to rise, I announce justice triumphant, I announce uncompromising liberty and  
I announce the justification of candor and  
 the justification of pride.
I announce a life copious, vehement,  
 spiritual, bold,
I announce the end that shall lightly and  
 joyfully meet its translation."

After all that has been written it is scarcely necessary for us to add that while there are passages in "Leaves of Grass" that for the sake of the immature and casual reader we would gladly obliterate, yet as a sign of the time when a distinctively American school of literature shall arise, vigorous, wholesome, pure, breezy as the praries and lofty as the Sierras, we welcome WALT WHITMAN and his book. It is a splendid protest against the fine spun and sickly effeminacy of the AMANDA MATILDA 1 poetry of the American magazine. It is very strong meat but good for vigorous digestion. "Camerado," we return your kiss. Though "disembodied, triumphant, dead," you will dwell forever in the epic of democracy.


1. Possibly a blunder for "Rosa Matilda," the pen name of Charlotte Dacre, writer of popular sensational novels. The Rosa Matilda "school" included writers who depicted violence and frank sexuality, rather than the authors of maudlin sentimentality to which this reviewer alludes. [back]

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