Walt Whitman's publication of Leaves of Grass, on July 4, 1855, stands as one of the more improbable achievements in American literary history. Nothing in the earlier writings of the thirty-six-year-old former Long Island schoolteacher, who himself received only six years of formal education, had suggested that he was capable of the revolutionary style or of the radically unorthodox combination of spiritual, sexual, and political sensibilities that make Leaves of Grass as much a prophetic teaching as a pioneering literary work. Today, 150 years after its first appearance, Leaves of Grass remains disturbingly honest and demanding, unique, and inimitable.
Whitman himself warned his readers that he was not merely the affectionate, easy friend they might suppose, and in this volume--illustrated with images from an anniversary exhibition at the Library--Isaac Gewirtz, Curator of the Library's renowned Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, explores and dissects the benign image of "the good gray poet." This candid appreciation of the poet and his poetry includes frank appraisals of his views on racism, homosexuality, and women's rights, yet always discerns the golden thread of Whitman's intention: that a new American man and woman might join him on a "perpetual journey" of self-realization, discovering along the way that "All truths wait in all things."