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Today in Literature

March 26, 2009

26 March 1892: Walt Whitman, the great American bard, passed away at his home in Camden, New Jersey. During his career, Whitman was often accused of betraying poetry as a form of art but is now considered one of the best poets of the American tradition.

Whitman’s life’s work is contained in The Leaves of Grass, his massive book of poetry that was published first in 1855. The book evolved and expanded throughout his career, more than doubling in size. Critics have taken an interest in comparing the first editions of the poems with Whitman’s death-bed versions; one of the more interesting comparisons is between early and late versions of the poem from Calmus, “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.”

Beyond inspiring generations of American poets and literary scholars (not the mention the Dead Poets Society), Whitman’s incredible beard–gloriously displayed in the above picture–has stirred a desire in the masses for eccentric facial hair.

My favorite section of poetry from Whitman is taken from “Song of Myself”:

Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass
all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women
my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap’d stones, elder, mullein and
poke-weed.

“And that a kelson of the creation is love”

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