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Review of November Boughs

NOVEMBER BOUGHS By Walt Whitman. Pp. 140. $1.25. Philadelphia: David McKay. 1888.

This latest collection of Whitman's work is mainly prose; only about twenty pages out of the one hundred and forty being occupied by pieces in the form of poetry. Yet, as these latter are nearly all very brief, many of them not exceeding a dozen lines each, there are many titles,—no fewer, indeed, than fifty-seven. The prose is also divided into more than twenty articles, and several of these are sub-divided. Altogether, the book is made up of gleanings and gatherings, the work of one who stands near the final exit.

Of the poetry, which is grouped under the general title of "Sands at Seventy," we do not need to present here any critical notice. Not only is there a settled opinion, one way or the other, in the minds of most literary people on the question whether Walt Whitman's metrical work is truly poetry, but our readers have quite recently had the opportunity of enjoying a very full discussion of that subject. Let the final decision be as it may upon the one point whether his verse is materially injured by its irregularity of form, it is certain that there is in it a vital spirit, poetical in its nature, and that this has found, and doubtless will continue to find, its circle of admirers. The examples in this volume are marked by characteristics with which those in his previous books made us familiar, with the exception that none of these incur objection on the score of propriety. They show perhaps, less force, less ruggedness, less of the extreme Whitmanesque individuality, while they incline more to retrospection, and a vein of chastened sadness. There is no rhyme, of course, but occasionally there is a verse almost smooth in metre, and regular in the flow of its rhythm, as for instance this "After the Dazzle of Day":

"After the dazzle of day is gone, Only the dark, dark night shows to my eye the stars; After the clangor of organ majestic, or chorus, or perfect band, Silent, athwart my soul, moves the symphony true."

And there are others equally as notable in this respect, of greater length: we quote this partly on account of its brevity.

The prose papers include a long one, placed first in the book, (the poetry follows it), entitled "A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads." In this he reviews in fourteen pages, his own work, explaining his purpose, his plan, his form of thought. He justifies the much,—and as we have always held, justly,—criticised lines in "Leaves of Grass," and insists that they shall not be elided in future edition, "if there should be such." Others of the papers refer to his hospital experiences, to Shakespeare, Burns, and Tennyson, to Lincoln, to Father Taylor the Boston preacher, etc., etc., all notable in style and matter, and some extremely vivid and striking. At the last he gives an extended sketch of Elias Hicks, the Quaker preacher of Long Island, whom he knew in his boyhood, and whose character he highly appreciates.

This is a very important addition to the list of Whitman's books. The matter is so compactly inserted that there is much more than might be supposed. If it were spread out as often is done, the poetry alone would fill a thin volume, while another could be made of the Notes on Elias Hicks. The "Backward Glance" is entitled to an attentive reading, as a statement, final no doubt, of his own view of his poetry, and this alone deserves a much more careful and elaborate consideration than we have been able to give in this notice.

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