Harold Bloom on Walt Whitman


[Whitman] is the poet of our climate, never to be replaced, unlikely ever to be matched. Only a few poets in the language have surpassed “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”: Shakespeare, Milton, perhaps one or two others. Whether even Shakespeare and Milton have achieved a more poignant pathos and a darker eloquence than Whitman’s “Lilacs,” I am not always certain. The great scene between the mad Lear and the blind Gloucester; the speeches of Satan after he has rallied his fallen legions—these epitomize the agonistic Sublime. And so does this, but with preternatural quietness:

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break. [from “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” section 3]

— Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (New York: Riverhead Books, 1994), pp. 270-271



Walt Whitman. Concluded formal schooling at age eleven. Subsequently worked as an office boy, printer’s devil (apprentice), compositor (typesetter), schoolteacher, pressman, journalist, and editor. Began writing what would become Leaves of Grass in his early thirties. Published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855 when he was age 36. A remarkable ontogenesis.


— Roger W. Smith

   July 2017

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