an early take by Walt Whitman on his conception of himself as America’s poet

 

 

Walt Whitman began his writing career as a journalist. He was known early on for writing anonymous reviews of Leaves of Grass — in other words, reviewing himself, in laudatory terms. A motivation for his doing this was that he clearly felt his poetic endeavor would not be understood by the literati or his countrymen, and indeed his poetry initially baffled most and offended many because of its frankness, or what one might call lack of reticence when it came to topics not discussed in polite society. Even his own family seems not to have for the most part read his poetry or understood it.

Below is an unpublished puff piece by Whitman that was in his papers. It is not un-similar to anonymous reviews of Leaves of Grass he actually wrote. His conception of himself as a sort of literary gatecrasher is amusing. It has more than a grain of truth.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018

 

 

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We suppose it will excite the mirth of many of our readers to be told that a man has arisen, who has deliberately and insultingly ignored all the other, the cultivated classes as they are called, and set himself to write “America’s first distinctive Poem,” on the platform of these same New York Roughs, firemen, the ouvrier class, masons and carpenters, stagedrivers, the Dry Dock boys, and so forth; and that furthermore, he either is not aware of the existence of the polite social models, and the imported literary laws, or else he don’t value them two cents for his purposes.

 

Notes and Fragments, edited by R. M. Bucke; in Complete Writings of Walt Whitman, vol. IX (New York, 1902), pg. 70

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