Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman Essay

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Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

In the twentieth century, the name Walt Whitman has been synonymous with poetry. Whitman's most celebrated work, Leaves of Grass, was the only book he ever wrote, and he took a lifetime to write it. A large assortment of poems, it is one of the most widely criticized works in literature, and one of the most loved works as well. Whitman was unmarried and childless, and it has been noted that Leaves of Grass consumed him greatly; James E. Miller Jr. writes:
"…he guided his poetic offspring through an uncertain, hesitant childhood, a lusty young manhood, and a serene old age…it is difficult to write the life of Whitman without writing instead of the life and times of his book…Whitman was
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"Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight…
Passage to more than India!
Of secret of the earth and sky!
Of you o waters of the sea! O winding creeks and rivers!…
O day and night, passage to you!' (Whitman 180-294)
…His use of 'thee' and 'thou' in his poetry, his reference to the months by their sequential number ('ninth month' for September), and his instinctive adoption of the inner light—all of these Walt could trace back to his Quaker background." (Miller 17)

This Quakerism also contributed to the style of Leaves, told with certain closeness and a certain emphasis paralleling that of a preacher. Miller comments on this style:
"His was a day of evangelism and oratory. As a child he was no doubt frequently exposed to both. The passionate intimacy and pleading of many lines in Leaves of Grass could…have been used by an itinerant preacher…" (Miller 43)

Aside from his Quaker traces, Leaves of Grass has been criticized as being an extension of Whitman's life. Just as Miller described the work as Whitman's child, John Kinnaird comments on the great level of importance at which Whitman held his masterpiece:
"…Leaves of Grass suggests so much of the original existential Whitman that criticism must continue to recover and understand, particularly since this is the first poet who ever insisted that his book
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