Leaves of Grass

And the Day And Night Are For You And Me And All

The first edition was only 12 poems
He kept expanding it throughout his life
A caution here to poets
Even the greatest can work it too much

Whitman designed and published it himself
Out of a printing shop in Brooklyn, Fulton Street
First in 795 copies about 200 extant today
Handset press no plates so the first edition
Never reprinted

After a page printed
The type was redistributed on the hand-inked
Iron bed press
Whitman stopped the press a few times during publication
Once to fix a typo another to change a line

And the night is for you and me and all
And the day and night are for you and me and all

Some of the versions have the typo and some have the uncorrected line

For a long time critics thought it significant that what became known as
“Song of Myself” concluded with no period
a clue that the process continues
but we came to understand that the period broke off during printing

The cover dark green has vines and tendrils growing out of the
Leaves of Grass a pun leaf as in page also as in organic growth
Organic leaves one sprouts another

The book begins in ten pages of prose
Then twelve poems in eighty five pages
The soul third person present in the preface
The “I” emerging later in the poems

The preface with its origins in Emerson’s essay
“The Poet” the need for the American voice in poetry

The soul and the I circling each other
Articulating each other
Nourishing defining integrating sustaining

The complete manuscript of the first book is lost
Wish I could find it
Whitman worked out of a green notebook
Dated as early as 1847 [that I have]

Whitman said he left the manuscript with the printer
Andrew Rome
Who used it to kindle the fire or feed the rag man

On the frontispiece a bearded young man
Rakish tilt to the hat open collar
One hand in his pocket one hand on his hip
In some versions a bulge in his pants
I’m not kidding look it up
It’s an engraving based on a daguerreotype

The picture is not identified
And Whitman’s name doesn’t appear on the title page
This confused Emerson a little
But contributed to the sense that the personality of the poet
Emerges throughout the poems

The sense that the person and America and its language
Are growing out together off the page
Through the book
Out of the book and into the mind of the reader
The conscious unconscious of America

The voice in “Song of Myself” introduces himself as
Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos

He is Walt Whitman he is America he is a dynamic
Integrating organic I am something Everything as is America
He is a fulcrum the mythic Whitman and the historic Walt
That barbaric yawp through the entire sweep of America

What came before
What he experienced
And what has come after

It all arises around and through Whitman
And his poetry his life when he lived
And that America teetering between what came before
And what after

The after we are still held in its arc
And this is one reason I think about him
And his Leaves of Grass on the birthday of America
And the publication date of his first edition
July 4, 1855

More the mythic America than the historic America
Though when I read him and think about his work
The myth and history are not so divergent
I learn and re-learn America in Leaves of Grass

Here’s a period I’m done.

July 4, 2014
159 years since publication of Leaves of Grass