Member Blogs > Books Tell You WhyFrom Curiosity to Canon: Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass

  • Mon, 21 Sep 2015 08:00:00    Permalink

    When Walt Whitman published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, it contained just twelve poems. He fronted the money for the publication himself and almost no copies were sold. The now-iconic photo of young, jaunty-hatted Whitman that served in place of the author’s name cast an odd shadow over what were already terribly peculiar poems. At best, the volume of billowing, exuberant free-verse was considered a curiosity. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for instance, appreciated its attempt to revive the spirit of transcendentalism, but found the verse itself a bit loose. At worst, the collection was thought of as an abomination. Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was said to have thrown his copy into a fire. Boston’s District Attorney found the book to be obscene and attempted to suppress it. It even cost Whitman his job after the Secretary of the Interior read it and deemed it offensive.

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