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then the "Poem of the Daily Work of the Work, men and Workwomen of These States." These were other titles in the first edition: “Poem of Wonder at the Resurrection of the Wheat," "Poem of You, Whoever You Are," "Poem of the Heart of the Son of Manhattan Island," "Poem of the Last Explanation of Prudence," "Poem of Remembrances for a Girl or a Boy of These States," "Poem of the Child That Went Forth and Always Goes Forth, Forever and Forever," “Poem of the Propositions of Nakedness," "Poem of the Sayers of the Words of the Earth," “Poem of the Dead Young Men of Europe, the 72d and 73d Years of These States.” The longest title is "Liberty Poem for Asia, Africa, Europe, America, Australia, Cuba, and the Archipelagoes of the Sea," later changed to the title, "To a Foil'd European Revolutionaire.”
Among the writings in “Leaves of Grass,” there are poems which are masterpieces of the art of poetry. Not only are they to be noted as masterpieces of American literature; they are also of a piece with massive achievements of other countries; they call up comparison with the sublime chants, outcries, queries and assurances found in other literature outside of America.
"Song of Myself,” which in the earliest editions was titled, "Poem of Walt Whitman, An American," is a specimen of the massive masterpiece. “I do not ask who you are, that is not important to me," he declares in one line, and, “I wear my hat as I please indoors and out,” in another line. Such lines are easily understood even by those who question whether it should classify as poetry. "What is a man anyhow? What am I? What are you?" or "I do not call one greater and one smaller," or "These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages, they are not criginal with me," or "I launch all men and
these are further instances of the understandable.
It is among the inarticulates of the primitive, the abysmal, on the borders where time, mystic dimensions, and the sphinxes of Nowhere ask their riddles, it is in this territory that Walt Whitman gives some people à grand everlasting thrill, while still other people get only a headache and a revulsion. "Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me, Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there,” he murmurs in "Song of Myself,” “Long I was hugg'd closelong and long."
"Toss, sparkles of day and dusk-toss on the black stems that decay in the muck, toss to the moaning gibberish of the dry limbs,” is a specimen of this borderland reporting. Or, “A child said, What is the grass ? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child ? I do not know what it is any more than he I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord.”
Throughout "Leaves of Grass" there recurs often a wild soft laughter carrying the hint that it is impossible for a poet to tell you anything worth knowing unless you already know it and no song can be sung to you that will seem a song deeply worth hearing unless you have already in some strange, far-off fashion heard that song. An instance of this wild soft laughter is in the closing lines of "Song of Myself," where it is written:
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he com
plains of my gab and my loitering. I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on
the shadow'd wilds, It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk. I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway
run, I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags. I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass
What he is trying to sing is a theme fuid, flowing, elusive, and so he goes out of his way to Alip in the face those who are too sure they are flying the same wild sea-winds with him. “Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, already, behold! you see I have escaped you,” he writes.
He is at a funeral looking into a coffin. A girl stands on her toes and joins him looking in on the white face in the black box. “You don't understand this, do you, my child ?” he asks. “No," she answers. "Neither do 1,” is his muttered and kindly rejoinder.
The anecdote fits Whitman as feathers a duck. From such a poet might be expected the line, “I charge you forever reject those who would expound me.'
One's-Self I Sing
To Thee Old Cause
Song of Myself
To the Garden the World
As Adam Early in the Morning
In Paths Untrodden