Bruce's Reviews > Poetry and Prose

Poetry and Prose by Walt Whitman
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Oct 20, 2010

it was amazing
Read in October, 2010

In addition to all of Whitman’s prose, this volume contains two editions of “Leaves of Grass.” I read the 1855 edition before reading the final 1891-92 edition. It began with a prose preface that was moderately interesting, although I liked the poetry better. Whitman revels in particularity, encyclopedically. His verse is not best appreciated by rushing through it (as we were often prone to do when reading it for a course in high school or college), but it rather needs to be read slowly and thoughtfully, as most poetry should be read. I try to luxuriate in it, relating to each individual image and idea. I like the roll and movement of Whitman’s verse, the accumulating substance of his images. It is all-inclusive, all-embracing, robust and swaggering and confident. Arnold Weinstein of Brown University calls Whitman the poet of the body, of the city, and of death. He is at least this and even more. How much, if his work reflected America in the mid-19th century, would now apply to this country a century and a half latter? Has our self-confidence not become brittle, defensive, a bit strident? Have we not lost faith in progress, in the so-called American dream? Even the myth of American exceptionalism seems tinseled, outdated, naïve and unattractive, although many still subscribe to this illusion. How much has changed. How this country has changed.

This poetry importantly leads to the freeing up of language, the freeing of thought and conversation. All is open, all is exposed, all is acceptable. It is less a rant than an incantation, a celebration of incarnation. Henceforth poetry can be all-inclusive, no holds or subjects barred. Whitman has the uncanny ability to forge an intimate relationship with his reader, evoking a conversation over time and space, such that a bond is formed and maintained. Subsequent American verse is unthinkable without reference to Whitman, and countless examples of his influence could be given. For example, I can hear Whitman in Carl Sandburg’s poetry. This is poetry that can be read and reread as one grows older, different lights and nuances becoming apparent as one ages. I am so glad that I returned to it now.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Vernon (new)

Vernon Goddard Hi There Bruce,
Thanks for your comments/review of Walt Whitman's Poetry & Prose. I am ashamed to say that I know of Whitman only through a few quotations and conversations with friends. He's not been on my list of To-reads. But, having read your review I certainly want to get more acquainted. Vernon


message 2: by Ann (new)

Ann Bruce, this is a great review. I read quite a bit of Whitman when I was in the Peace Corps and you remind me that I should revisit him sometime soon.


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