SELECTION FROM THE PREFACE OF “LEAVES OF GRASS”
by Walt Whitman
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an American poet, essayist, journalist, and humanist. He was a part of the transition between Transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. His work was very controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described as obscene for its overt sexuality. (Annotated biography of Walt Whitman courtesy of Wikipedia.org.)
Editor’s Note: I was sent this excerpt from Leaves of Grass by two different people this past week, which to me was a sign that it needed to be shared with you. Walt Whitman is that rare example of a poet who is well known by name today. Recently Andrew Sullivan featured this same excerpt in The Atlantic. As previously featured in this series, Levis has made Walt Whitman the voice of their Freedom campaign. In his own time Whitman was controversial. Today his words are less so in comparison to what is the norm in the modern world. And still, Whitman is known, quoted, referenced, revered, and loved. My own introduction to Whitman was through the poets I am closest to. Ginsberg, Lorca, Spicer – to the poets who came after him, Whitman was a hero and mentor. Because of Whitman, not only was Whitman’s own timeless poetry written, but great poetry was written by those who followed.