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Review of Leaves of Grass (1891–92)

——BOOK INKLINGS.—Three beautiful books lie before us, each enticing in exterior, bound in characteristically fitting way to suit their each very different but all eminent and distinguished subject-matter: Lowell's 'Choice Odes, Lyrics, and Sonnets,' in a setting of white and gold and green laurel-leaf pencilling (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, & Co. $1.00); the dainty American reissue of George Meredith's subtile sonnet sequence, 'Modern Love" (with preface by E. Cavazza. Portland, Me.: Thomas B. Mosher. $1.50); and the last, gray felt-bound 'Leaves of Grass' (Philadelphia: D. McKay. $2.00),—that issue which Whitman, almost in his last breath, called his "special and entire self-chosen poetic utterance," wishing it "to absolutely supersede all previous editions." These works of two American and one English poet represent a great deal that is most salient in modern poetic expression, and, constituting at once a small and a large library,—a wide poetic range in but three volumes,—especially deserve purchase by one of liberal taste and culture. The conflicting difference between man and Nature, finding expression in poetry and making way toward a new outlook, is given characteristically by Lowell, for example, in his little poem 'The Nightingale in the Study." Cat-bird and thrush scoff at his "many-volumed gains," the "withered leaves" he turns in his study in order to win at best, for all his pains, "A nature mummy-wrapt in learning;" but the singers of all weathers, the nightingales in his study, the poet maintains, give their "best sweetness to all song, To Nature's self her better glory." The rich involutions of Meredith's story of a present-day Othello contains another word on man's command of Nature. Nature plays "for Seasons, not Eternities," as must "All those whose stake is nothing more than dust;" and in his closing sonnet he finds the secret of the woe of the "ever-diverse pair" he depicts, in that "they fed not on the advancing hours," but sought the "dusty answer" the soul gets "When hot for certainties in this our life." The poet of human selfhood, ordinarily supposed to be less weighted with the lore of libraries than Lowell, less subtly introspective than Meredith, supposed to be, indeed, only an untutored child of Nature herself, seems yet to have written in his 'Leaves of Grass'—for example, in his praise of mind-images he calls 'Eidólons'—of all the songs of thought's supremacy the most unequivocal:—

"Lo, I or you Or woman, man, or State, known or unknown, We seeming solid wealth, strength, beauty, build, But really build eidólons. . . . . . . . Strata of mountains, soils, rocks, giant trees, Far-born, far dying, living long, to leave Eidólons everlasting. Not this the world, Nor these the universes, they the universe, Purport and end, ever the permanent life of life."
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