Despite two language-related degrees, there are many, many Very Important Books that I’ve never read. Crime and Punishment? Nope. The Sound And The Fury? Nuh-uh. Mill On The Floss? Yes, but I wish I hadn’t. And until pretty recently, Leaves Of Grass was on my ‘I Probably Should Read That If I’m Going To Call Myself A Writer’ list.
In the event that you don’t know, Leaves of Grass is a collection of poetry written by Walt Whitman. It was first published in 1855 with just 95 pages. But Walt continued to revise and add to it and there are now nine different editions of the book. The ‘Deathbed edition’ boasts almost 400 poems – be ye not so stupid as me. DO NOT GET THE DEATHBED EDITION. THAT BUSINESS IS TL; DR.
Leaves of Grass is famous for being significantly more accessible than other poetry of that era – and even a bit shocking. Our boy Walt enjoys The Sex and enjoys talking about it. He also enjoys talking about his armpits and pubic hair and general man parts. At various points while reading this, I literally clucked aloud and said “Walt! You! Gosh!”
The philosophy behind Leaves of Grass is, to me, a lovely one. It’s a celebration of the human body, the magic of being alive, all the tiny, wonderful details of daily life. Though it’s not a religious book, it somehow seems spiritual.
Here are my favorite snippets.
I wear my hat as I please, indoors or out.
I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also.
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from,
The scent of these armpits finer than prayer,
This head more than churches, bibles and all the creeds.
We found our own O my soul in the calm and cool of the day-break.
I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy,
To touch my person to someone else’s is about as much
as I can stand.
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so
placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
No one is dissatisfied, no one is demented with the
mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands
of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
Have you read Leaves of Grass? Did you like it? What other ‘classic literature’ do you like?