Title: Leaves of Grass
Author: Walt Whitman
Page Count/Review Word Count: 482
Leaves of Grass is supposed to be a masterpiece, a lifelong project by one of America’s earliest famous poets – Walt Whitman. Whitman was a huge influence for loads of the poets that I’m into, notably for Allen Ginsberg, but I just couldn’t get into his work. It was too wordy, and too bland, and too unemotional – I like poetry to relate back to my life, and Leaves of Grass doesn’t do that.
It does have an interesting story behind it, though – its first edition was published relatively early on in Whitman’s life, but he continued to revise it and to add material throughout the majority of his life, which resulted in there being multiple different versions of the manuscript. My copy is published by Oxford Classics, and theoretically, the editor ensured that the version in my hands was as close to Whitman’s vision as possible. One gets the feeling that, like Tolkien, he was never truly satisfied with his work, and that his poems and the book itself could have continued to have evolved indefinitely if Whitman had lived forever.
Really, it’s hard to recommend this unless you’re a serious student of poetry – it’s not exactly an easy read, and I can’t imagine most of the people I know, for example, ever wanting to read it. For me, I read it to satisfy my personal curiosity about Walt Whitman, and whilst I am glad that I’ve read this, I definitely wouldn’t read it again. Whitman’s work is just too traditional for me, but more than that – it’s also difficult to relate to. At least with traditional love poetry, I know what the author is talking about.
One interesting thing to note is that, like Allen Ginsberg scores of years later, Whitman came under fire for his representations of sexuality and the human body. Whilst this was scandalous at the time, it seems kind of tame compared to some of the stuff that I’ve read, and it wasn’t worth getting excited about. In fact, it’s worth noting that Whitman weaves it into his work like it’s no big deal, which it isn’t, but it was at the time.
Like almost all of the disappointing ‘classics‘ that I’ve read, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass deserves a spot on your bookcase not because it’s a lot of fun to read, but because of its influence, and its place in history. In fact, you could write a whole essay just on the effects that its publication had, but I’m starting to run out of words and so I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say that I only read this because I’m a poet – if you’re not a poet, it’s probably not worth reading it, unless you’re seriously studying it. Or maybe that’s just me.